United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

Report: Sanctions Empower Regime

            Sanctions have had  the unintended consequence of empowering the Iranian regime, according to a new report by the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation. Sanctions have signaled international opposition to Iran’s proliferation activities. But Iran has continued to defy demands by the international community to halt sensitive aspects of its nuclear program.
Tehran’s negotiators have stipulated that they will not make concessions without the lifting of sanctions. Yet the multilayered set of measures would “be difficult to lift in the timely, sequential way that a compromise would require,” according to the report. Increased emphasis on sanctions could be impeding a negotiated solution to the Iranian nuclear issue. The following are excerpts, followed by a link to the full report.

Political Impact
            Inadvertently helping the government and its allies: Sanctions have helped the existing Iranian regime to consolidate its power and help its allies. The state has taken a
more active interventionist role in the economy to manage the economic turbulence induced by
sanctions, and it has been able to allocate favors and take other measures that keep its supporters from feeling the full pain of sanctions. On the whole, it is likely that this dynamic
has increased reliance on the state which, in turn, may have the indirect effect of blunting
criticism of the government and its policies...
Have Sanctions Affected Iran’s Nuclear Decision-Making?
            Sanctions signal international resolve & commitment to a peaceful resolution: A key way in which sanctions have succeeded is as a signaling mechanism: sanctions show that the international community is united against Iran’s continued defiance, and that it is willing to take significant action to facilitatea negotiated solution. The unprecedented degree of international unity against Iran’s nuclear program can be seen in the imposition of UN Security Council sanctions, which require approval by Russia and China, nations which have previously been reluctant to sanction Iran.
            However, Iran has not halted its nuclear development: Iran has not yet acceded to the desired limits on its nuclear program –it has continued to enrich uranium to levelsclose to weapons-grade, and it has proceeded with the upgrading and expansion of nuclear facilities. This continued progress suggests that sanctions alone are unlikely to convince Iran to change course: robust negotiations in which incentives (including sanctions relief) are offered to Iran will be necessary to persuade Iran to comply with international demands.
            There are some signs that Iran will be persuaded: In recent months, despite some shows of grandiose anti-Western rhetoric from Iranian leaders, there are some indications of a willingness to make a deal. For instance, in November 2012, a report from Iran’s ministry of intelligence argued that diplomacy was a “necessary” way to resolve the problem and avoid a military attack.
            More recently, in talks with the P5+1 countries (the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, and China) in late February in Almaty, Kazakhstan, Iranian officials appeared less hostile and more open to the negotiating process, and gave signals that they would be willing to accept some of the international community’s demands, such as the suspension of 20% enriched uranium fuel.
            Compared with previous negotiations, in Almaty, the P5+1 exhibited increased willingness to ease sanctions. This shift in the Western negotiating position, notably described as a “turning point” by Iranian foreign minister Saeed Jalili, contributed to a positive shift in the tone of the negotiations, although the talks ultimately yielded no concrete results. However, an increasing reliance on sanctions and the apparent inflexibility of the measures have created doubts in Iran about Western intentions: Sanctions have increased in both scope and number, and the sanctioners’ willingness to lift the measures has appeared dubious, with therecent limited exception of the first round of Almaty talks in February.
            In this way, the complexity of the set of sanctions may be impeding negotiations by creating doubts in Iran about whether negotiations in fact will lead to significant reductions.
There are two main reasons that an increased emphasis on sanctions could be impeding a negotiated solution. First, existing sanctions overlap with one another in complex ways, which means it will be difficult to start rolling them back, even if Iran does start to make the desired concessions…
            Second, and more importantly in the long term, many sanctions have been imposed on Iran for actions unrelated to nuclear proliferation, such as support for terrorist groups and human rights abuses. This means that making concessions on its nuclear program is unlikely to help Iran get the full relief from sanctions it seeks. From Iran’s perspective, there may be no useful alternative to waiting out the sanctions and continuing its nuclear development to increase its bargaining power.
            For sanctions to serve as a true tool of leverage, sanctioning nations need to be able to credibly promise that they will lift sanctions if they get what they want, which is a key weakness of current Iran policy. According to the International Crisis Group, under the current “Spider Web” of sanctions, the international communityhas given up the “nimbleness” it needs to make sanctions an effective tool at the negotiating table.

US Charges Iran More Active Worldwide

            On May 31, two senior U.S. officials detailed Iran’s growing role in extremist activities worldwide. Tehran was directly or indirectly involved in the planning of attacks in Europe, Southeast Asia and Africa in 2012, said the officials. The following are excerpts from the background briefing.  
            SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE:  Yesterday we released at the State Department the annual Country Reports on Terrorism for 2012.  And one of the most noteworthy conclusions when we put that report together was a marked resurgence of terrorist activity by Iran and Hezbollah.  The tempo of operational activity was something we haven’t seen since the 1990s, with attacks plotted in Europe, Southeast Asia, and Africa in 2012 alone.
            We believe this is an alarming trend.  It’s borne out by the facts and it merits closer inspection as we evaluate the landscape of terrorist activity globally.  Add to this, of course, is the deepening commitment both Iran and Hezbollah have made to fight and kill on behalf of the Assad regime in Syria.  That involvement, of course, is hardening the conflict and threatening to spread the violence across the region.
            Hezbollah and the Iranian leadership share a similar world view and strategic vision and are seeking to exploit the current unrest in the region to their advantage.  This approach has increased sectarian tensions and conflict and serves further as a destabilizing force during a time of great change throughout the region.
            But there’s also an encouraging trend at work and one I think that’s received relatively little attention in our view, and that’s the increasingly firm response among governments around the world to these actions.  We’re seeing prosecutions of Hezbollah operatives in multiple jurisdictions around the world, ongoing investigations, and discussions about proscribing the group as a terrorist organization. 
            Now just to recap a couple of the notable incidents in 2012 that we also covered in our report, in February of this year the Bulgarian Government publicly implicated Hezbollah in a July 2012 bombing in Burgas that killed five Israelis and one Bulgarian citizen and injured 32 others.  In March of this year, a court in Cyprus found a Hezbollah operative guilty of charges stemming from surveillance activities carried out in 2012 against Israeli tourists.  Thailand is currently prosecuting a Hezbollah member for his role in helping plan a possible terrorist attack in that country.  We understand that trial will begin in mid-June.  The Qods Force is suspected of directing terrorist attacks in Georgia, India, Thailand, and Kenya in 2012. 
            You will also recall that the Qods Force was implicated in a 2011 plot to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador to the United States in Washington.  Manssor Arbabsiar was sentenced yesterday to 25 years in prison for his involvement in that plot.  We see no signs of this activity abating in 2013.  In fact, our assessment is that Hezbollah and Iran will both continue to maintain a heightened level of terrorist activity and operations in the near future.
             Now turning to Syria, Hezbollah has long been involved in the conflict and, of course, is making no – no longer making any effort to disguise or downplay the extent of its commitment to kill or die on behalf of the Assad regime.  A large number of Hezbollah fighters are now operating in Syria, even though the Lebanese Government has sought to disassociate Lebanon from the Syrian crisis in the best interest of the Lebanese people.  The group is openly undermining that policy and working closely with Iran to provide a range of support to the Assad regime, including fighters, weaponry, and training a large pro-regime militia.
            We judge that Iran and Hezbollah have enlisted Alawite, Iraqi, Shia militant and terrorist groups to participate in counter-opposition operations in Syria.  All of this support is helping the regime brutally crack down on the opposition, kill civilians, and is contributing to regional instability, notably in Lebanon.  And unfortunately, it’s clear that both Hezbollah and Iran’s involvement in Syria is only deepening as they take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that their close ally survives.
            Countering these activities continues to be a priority for the U.S. Government, but we’re also seeing other governments begin to take their own actions in response to Hezbollah’s global presence and operational activity.  Governments are beginning to see Hezbollah for what it is, and there is a shift underway that we detect in the way that other governments are viewing the organization.
            I mentioned the prosecution a minute ago of Hezbollah operatives in Cyprus and the Bulgarian Government’s finding Hezbollah responsibility for the Burgas attack.  These attacks – these activities, of course, led to the most serious discussion we’ve seen within the EU to designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.  Crucially, France and Germany have called for Hezbollah’s military wing to be added to the EU’s terrorism list, and we’re watching that discussion very, very closely.
            Recently Bahrain designated Hezbollah as a terrorist organization and is proposing that the GCC take up similar action across the GCC against Hezbollah.  The Arab League Chief Nabil Elaraby recently weighed in on Hezbollah, urging it to stop fighting alongside the Assad regime, urging Hezbollah to reconsider its stance and not get involved in the killing in Syria and stressing that only – the only way to protect Lebanon is to protect Lebanon’s internal unity.  That was issued in an Arab League statement, and I think that reflection of Arab League view is certainly a turnaround in the way Hezbollah is being viewed across the Arab world.
            Of course, Hezbollah’s actions have been condemned by numerous Lebanese political figures for placing Lebanon at risk and placing the country’s interest and those of – and placing Hezbollah’s interest and those of Iran and Assad above those of the Lebanese people.  President Sulayman recently urged Hezbollah to withdraw from Syria. 
            Looking again at the global picture, in Southeast Asia, in mid-June, the Thai Government will begin its prosecution of a Hezbollah operative who was detained in January 2012 and who led police to a warehouse located outside of the city – outside of Bangkok, where police found several thousand kilograms of explosives and bomb-making material.  We’ve also seen countries beginning to crack down on Iran’s terrorist activities with Nigeria and Kenya arresting and prosecuting Iranian operatives who were in their countries engaged in various illicit activities.
            I think I’ll stop there, but it does give you a sense of the global scope of activity we’re seeing on both of these – both the – both Iran and Hezbollah’s part, and as was emphasized in our report released yesterday.  Thank you. 
            SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO:  As a result of all of these activities, and actually a lot of other activities, in our efforts to combat its financial support and its financial activities, we’ve adopted over the last couple of years a new approach.  Traditionally, over the years, what we’ve focused on is trying to go after the terrorist financing as terrorist financing activities of Hezbollah, and we certainly continue to do that.  But what I think you’ve seen over the past several years is expanding the aperture of those efforts in two ways.  The first is taking a comprehensive approach to targeting all of Hezbollah’s illicit activities, and secondly, to focus more than ever before on Hezbollah’s financial activities within Lebanon and trying to make even the Lebanese financial system a hostile environment for Hezbollah to be operating in, so again, a comprehensive approach, an approach that focuses not just on the periphery, but challenging Hezbollah’s ability to conduct financial activities through the Lebanese financial system. 
            We’ve done that a number of ways.  First of all, as I said, in the traditional way of focusing on Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, we’ve implemented a number of financial sanctions with respect to Hezbollah targeting their ties with the Iran Qods Force and just their general conduct within Lebanon.  And I could be happy to go into some of those designations, if people are interested.
            Secondly, we focused on Hezbollah’s activities within Syria and its alliance with the Assad regime and the violence that it’s waging upon the Syrian people and tried to highlight that through our financial and economic sanctions.
            And then finally, and what I think is the most innovative aspect of our strategy, is focusing on Hezbollah’s illicit financial activities, to include its links with narcotics trafficking.  We’ve taken a number of actions in which Hezbollah has been implicated under our drug kingpin sanctions program, and using Section 311 of the Patriot Act to target financial institutions within Lebanon that have been involved in these narcotics money-laundering activities and that have had links to Hezbollah.  These include actions we’ve taken against the Lebanese Canadian Bank, and just within the past couple of months, against two exchange houses within Lebanon – the Rmeiti Exchange and the Halawi Exchange. 
            We’ve combined this with intense engagement with the Lebanese Government to try to ensure that all Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing Rules and regulations and international standards are being applied throughout the Lebanese financial system to ensure the Lebanese financial system is clean and safe and integrated into the international financial system appropriately.  But we’ve also made clear that if Lebanon is unable to apply Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing laws and regulations and international standards in an appropriate fashion, then it puts its access to the international financial system at risk.
            QUESTION:  Two questions:  One, is there any estimate of the – obviously Iran is making a large effort to supply Assad with arms, Qods Force personnel, advisors, and the like.  Is there an estimate of what, in terms of resources, how much Iran is spending on this, how many billions, for example, per year?  And two, there was a recent episode that’s come to light through Israeli and Nigerian officials, where they claim to have nabbed a Hezbollah cell in Nigeria that was planning attacks on Western targets and Israeli targets.  Do you have any information on that?
            SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE:  We are watching very closely those reports coming out of Nigeria.  We don’t have anything further than what is – has been announced, both by the Nigerian and the Israeli Governments.  But it, again, is reflective of this global scope of operational activity that we’ve been encountering over these last 18, 24 months, and it’s something that we’re very concerned about.  Africa, across the continent, has been an area that Hezbollah in particular has been active.  Of course, they’ve used Africa for fundraising and traditionally, but they’ve been operationally active in a number of African countries, as have the Iranians, as we saw in the case in Kenya recently.
            SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO:  With respect to Hezbollah financing, Iran has always been and remains the primary financial supporter of Hezbollah, and Hezbollah survives on the resources that it derives from its Iranian support.  That’s not to say that it doesn’t derive funds from other places…But Iran still is vital to all of that.  This is one of the reasons, as I said before, why we focus so heavily on ensuring that the Lebanese financial system is not a conducive environment for Hezbollah financial activities. 
            QUESTION:  Homeland Security in November was talking about the links of Hezbollah with drug traffic organizations in Mexico.  Are you not concerned about that at all? 
            SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE:  We are quite concerned about Hezbollah and its global reach.  We don’t have evidence of an operational network – Hezbollah across South America, but it’s something that we watch for very, very, very closely.  We know that Hezbollah as an organization does benefit from fundraising activity or commercial activity that ultimately benefits the organization back in Lebanon.  But as for an operational link to activities in South America, Central America, or Mexico, we don’t have that.
            QUESTION:  I was wondering if you have any estimate on the number of fighters that Hezbollah has in Syria right now.  And I know you said you expect more terrorism in the next year from Hezbollah, but given their involvement in Syria, how will this shape you think Hezbollah’s military calculation going into war with Israel or other conventional things they’ve done in the last few years?
            SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE:  I don’t think we have an estimate on the number of fighters.  I mean there are, of course, a lot of people trying to look at this question.  I think it’s fair to say, however, that the organization has made an all-in commitment to defend and support the Assad regime and is throwing whatever resources are required at that, and of course as reports indicate is suffering the consequences as well in terms of fighters being killed in Syria as well.  But we don’t have an estimate of the numbers. 
            With regard to what these trends indicate for what we can expect for the future and what this means for Hezbollah’s – the potential for destabilizing activity with regard to Israel, I mean I think that’s something that the organization has made a part of its identity.  It is a destabilizing force within the region.  It certainly is so within Lebanon and its actions in Syria and its declarations to essentially define the Syrian conflict as a sectarian conflict, which of course is sparking an intensified fight within the country of a sectarian nature.  These are further indications that the organization itself plays a destabilizing role within Lebanon and then more broadly in the region if we needed further evidence of that.
            QUESTION:  Two questions:  Firstly, do you see any connection between what’s happening in Syria and the sort of surge of sectarian violence in Iraq, number one? And number two, you said we don’t have any evidence of operational networks in Central or South America or Mexico.  Did you have evidence of operational networks in Thailand, Bulgaria, Cyprus, prior to the commission of these attacks last year?  Were you surprised that they had this ability to launch these attacks in these places? 
            SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE:  When we released the report, we noted that the increase in activity is something we haven’t seen since the 1990s.  And the 1990s was a period, of course, where Hezbollah also was operationally active, committing attacks in multiple parts of the world, to include Europe.  So the fact that Hezbollah had operational networks historically in Europe is not new to us, is not surprising.  And in fact, we were already in the spring of 2012 having numerous conversations with European governments about the danger that Hezbollah was posing, and that was on the basis of information we were aware of that indicated an increased operational tempo in Europe. And those conversations coincided then with the events that played out in the summer to include the attack in Bulgaria.  So we were not surprised that – when – ultimately when we started to see the evidence play out and then in the course of the court case in Cyprus.
            QUESTION:  Iran announced a couple of days ago that it is extending a $4 billion line of credit to Syria.  They’re saying that it’s for economic purposes, for reconstruction, and development of business and things like that.  Do you think something like this, given the situation on the ground in Syria, is plausible?  Is it even possible, considering that Iran is heavily under sanctions, financial sanctions, and Syria to some extent as well? 
            SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO:  It’s an important issue to point out that while the Iranian economy is going down the tubes as a result of its own mismanagement of its economy and as a result of comprehensive international sanctions, and while the Iranian people are suffering as a result of that, that Iran still manages to find resources to send to terrorist organizations like Hezbollah and to support the Assad regime’s violence against its own people in Syria. 
            The fact of the matter is, is that Iran and organizations like Hezbollah are acting irresponsibly in this regard and we have a whole wide array of sanctions that we are prepared to deploy when we see financial institutions or other types of institutions around the world that are engaged in sanction-able activity.  And we’ve demonstrated that we’re prepared to use that, and we implement financial sanctions all the time with respect to entities that are involved in financial activities with Iran. 
            Iran is often big on promises.  If we see financial activity that is sanction-able – and that’s an awful lot of different types of financial activity with Iran – we will certainly exercise our tools and ensure that the financial institutions involved are isolated from the international financial system. 

The Supreme Leader’s Revenge

Alireza Nader

            Iranian politics are personal. Indeed, the theocrats are decidedly earthly in their rivalries. But the 2013 election is particularly telling. It may be settling a score dating back a quarter century between the revolution’s two most enduring politicos—Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.

      The two men have competed for power and the right to define the revolution since the death of revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1989. Rafsanjani originally had the upper hand in two sweeping changes. He oversaw constitutional changes that created an executive president, which he then ran for and won. And, in Tehran’s worst-kept secret, he orchestrated Khamenei’s selection as the new supreme leader, reportedly because Khamenei was a middle-ranking cleric and dour figure who could not rival Rafsanjani’s political base or charismatic wiles. Khamenei actually owes his power and position to Rafsanjani, the man known in Iran as the “shark.”
      But since 1989, Rafsanjani’s master plan has gradually unraveled. In 2013, Khamenei has now managed not only to emerge from Khomeini’s shadow. He has also sidelined most of his old rivals, including the crafty Rafsanjani. On May 21, Rafsanjani was disqualified from running for the presidency—even though the 12-man Guardian Council had qualified him to run in three earlier elections. He had been elected twice. Rafsanjani is 78. Winning elected political office is likely to be increasingly difficult. Hardliners in parliament even considered legislation this year that would bar any candidate over the age of 75.
            For now, Khamenei is his own man. Yet the two rivals still epitomize a core schism among the original revolutionaries.
            Rafsanjani believes Islam should be the basis of Iran’s political system. But he also advocates facets of modern politics, including republican institutions, an essentially capitalist economy, and a foreign policy that honors international practices. It is not liberal democracy. It instead has electoral outlets with strict safeguards that protect religious and revolutionary doctrines. Rafsanjani appears to view himself as a modern day version of Amir Kabir, the reformist chief vizier for Qajar dynasty Naser al Din Shah in the 19th century.
            In contrast, Khamenei is more conservative and dogmatic. He believes that the supreme leader, rather than the president, should be the theocracy’s key decision-maker. He also appears to view the Iranian people more as subjects than citizens. For Khamenei, the supreme leader’s authority is primarily derived from God and the Hidden Imam. Elected institutions are meant to implement his policies rather than shape them.
            Khamenei has spent the last 24 years converting his vision into a reality—and taking on his revolutionary peers. Between 1989 and 1997, he tolerated President Rafsanjani’s economic liberalization and attempted détente with the West because he had little choice as a newly minted leader. But he used the time to build his own power base, tapping into close connections to the Revolutionary Guards. He had served as their supervisor and deputy minister of defense during the revolution’s first decade and the tough eight-year war with Iraq.
            Once Rafsanjani’s term was over, Khamenei used the Guards to suppress reformists under President Mohammad Khatami, who held office for two terms between 1997 and 2005. Khamenei was widely believed to feel threatened by Khatami, a suave cleric who had popular appeal and a historic connection to Khomeini. Like Rafsanjani, Khatami was also thwarted from running again in the 2013 presidential election.
            Khamenei’s initial support for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who first ran for the presidency in 2005, was partly because the Tehran mayor’s had no connections to Khomeini. He was also not a cleric with religious standing that could undermine the supreme leader. The other two major candidates in the disputed 2009 presidential race — Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi — had both been close to Khomeini. As prime minister from 1981 to 1989, Mousavi had frequently clashed with Khamenei at a time Iran had a parliamentary government and Khamenei was titular president. Karroubi had been head of the Imam Khomeini Relief Committee and the Martyr's Foundation as well as speaker of parliament. Both men are now under house arrest for challenging the 2009 election and serving as leaders of the so-called “sedition” against Khamenei’s rule.
            Khamenei has managed to clear the field. Yet his position at the top is also lonely and potentially unwieldy.
            Ironically, Iran’s supreme leader now faces opposition from an unexpected source — the family of the only other man who held the job. Khomeini’s daughter recently published an open letter to Khamenei stating that her father wanted Iran to be ruled by Khamenei and Rafsanjani working side-by-side. She warned that Rafsanjani’s removal from power would make the regime a dictatorship — and could even imperil the revolution.
Alireza Nader is a senior policy analyst at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation and the author of “Iran After the Bomb.”


Read Alireza Nader's chapter on the Revolutionary Guards in "The Iran Primer"


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Khomeini’s Rebel Grandchildren

By Helia Ighani and Garrett Nada
            On the eve of a pivotal election, Iran’s theocratic regime faces one of its most striking challenges from the grandchildren of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the revolutionary leader who mobilized millions to end more than 2,500 years of dynastic rule. Seven of the 15 grandchildren have openly criticized the laws and the leadership since the mid-1990s. Two have publicly disapproved of election practices in the 2013 presidential poll. Four supported reformist candidates in the disputed 2009 presidential election.
            Iranians “consider us faithful custodians of the thoughts of the Imam Khomeini, and so we get upset with whoever wants to move our country and our revolution away from the path outlined by the founder of the Islamic Republic,” Ali Eshraghi, a grandson, told the Italian Adnkronos International news agency in 2008. Eshraghi is an advocate of major reforms who was once barred from running for parliament.
      Khomeini and his wife Batoul had five children. After his death in 1989, Khomeini’s daughter Zahra Mostafavi was the first family member to challenge the regime. In an open letter in May 2013, she urged the supreme leader to reverse the Guardian Council’s barring of former President Ali Hashemi Rafsanjani from running for president. She heads a party that advocates for women’s rights and increased political participation. The following is a rundown on the seven rebel grandchildren.

Zahra Eshraghi
      Born in 1964, Zahra Eshraghi has been an outspoken critic of discrimination against women. She was named after her rebellious aunt —Zahra Mostafavi Khomeini. Zahra and about 2,000 other reformist candidates were barred from running in the 2004 parliamentary elections.
      Zahra has claimed that discriminatory practices are embedded in Iran’s constitution. She reportedly signed the One Million Signatures petition, a project launched in 2006 to change discriminatory laws against women. Zahra has also opposed Iran’s mandatory dress code for women.
            Zahra’s husband, Reza Khatami, was deputy speaker of parliament from 2000 to 2004. The younger brother of former President Mohammad Khatami was also secretary general of the reformist party Mosharekat.
            Zahra and her husband supported reformist candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi in the June 2009 presidential election. “Mousavi was one of the very few people trusted by my grandfather,” she claimed in an interview ten days before the election. Police briefly detained the couple on February 11, 2010 amid protests by the Green Movement on the anniversary of the 1979 revolution. The following are Zahra’s remarks on key issues.
Politics and Iran’s Government
            “If these people remain with the same thinking, nothing will change because this way of thinking does not want Iran to progress and bring peace and calm… [Iran] is on the edge of the precipice…Everyone knows that the country is facing a critical situation.” January 2013 in an interview with the Iranian website Anarpress
            “The government suffers from delusions, believing that it can eliminate everyone, [believing that] uniform thinking and restricting choices for voters can help it confront foreign threats.” March 2008 in an interview with Inter Press Service News Agency
            “It’s illegal, it’s not fair, and it’s not competitive — the whole ... governing system of the country.” March 2008 in an interview with NPR
Women’s Rights
            “Our constitution still says that the man is the boss and the woman is a loyal wife who sacrifices herself for her family. But society here has changed, especially in the last 10 years. If my grandfather were here now, I am sure he would have had very different ideas.
            “The constitution my grandfather approved says that only a man can be president… We would like to change the wording from ‘man’ to ‘anyone.’ But discrimination here is not just in the constitution. As a woman, if I want to get a passport to leave the country, have surgery, even to breathe almost, I must have permission from my husband.” June 2005 in an interview with The Telegraph
            “I'm sorry to say that the chador [full-body covering] was forced on women… This garment that was traditional Iranian dress was turned into a symbol of revolution. People have lost their respect for it. I only wear it because of my family status.” April 2003 in an interview with The New York Times
Click here and here to view Zahra’s Facebook pages.
Naeimeh Eshraghi
      Born in the mid-1960s, Naeimeh Eshraghi has contended that the regime has deviated from the Islamic revolution’s original goals. In remarks to Iranian website Tasnim, Naiemeh criticized the Guardian Council’s decision to bar Rafsanjani from running in the June 2013 presidential election. 
      The petrochemical engineer has feared being jailed for her critical views. “I would not be different from many other prominent free thinkers of our country who have ended up being in jail,” she told The Telegraph in 2012.
            Naiemeh has reportedly claimed that her grandfather never called for a compulsory head covering for women. She supported campaigns against the mandatory dress code in 2011 and 2012.
            Naiemeh has argued that direct talks with the United States could be beneficial for both sides. She has objected to the regime’s Internet censorship. Naeimeh has been the most active Khomeini grandchild on Facebook, despite a government ban on the site. The following are Naiemeh’s remarks on key issues.
Politics and Iran’s Government
            “It is high time that the government of Iran resorted to practicing democracy, and refrained from confronting individuals and non-government groups… My grandfather's system of spiritual guidance of the government rested its legitimacy on people's consent. Today this theory of government has split many sections of our society from the regime and has led to a deviation from the earlier right path of the revolution.” December 2012 in an interview with The Telegraph
Government Censorship
            The government “should stop fearing the transfer of new communications technology. It is only when this happens and we have free and widespread communications and the opening up of our borders to the outside world, both geographically and socially, that we can secure the progress and prosperity of Iran.” December 2012 in an interview with The Telegraph
U.S.-Iran Relations
            “In international relations, no country is the other's permanent enemy or friend and everything can change; direct talks could be a win-win deal only if the two sides thought big, acted boldly and ignored those who disgust each other.” January 2013 in an interview with the website, “Your Middle East”
Click here to view Naeimeh’s personal Facebook page and here to view Naeimeh’s Facebook fan page.
Ali Eshraghi
      Born in 1967, Ali is Zahra and Naeimeh’s younger brother and the only other Khomeini grandchild who has attempted to run for parliament. The civil engineer tried to run in 2008 as part of a reformist coalition, but was not approved by the Guardian Council.
      “I do not agree with activities of barring candidates, but neither do I protest it, and I will not plead with them to change their decision,” he told the Associated Press in February 2008. Ali did not receive an explanation for his rejection. But he said his neighbors were asked whether he fasted and prayed. Ali was reinstated before the March election, but reportedly withdrew at the request of the Khomeini family.
            Ali has claimed that hardliners have deviated from the path outlined by his grandfather. And he has opposed military involvement in politics. The following are Ali’s remarks on key issues.
Politics and Iran’s Government
            “Ayatollah Khomeini wrote in his will that all men in uniform, belonging to the armed forces, the police of the Revolutionary Guards, should keep their distance from parties and groups and remain outside political games.” February 15, 2008 in an interview with Adnkronos International
2008 Parliamentary Elections
            “I had left all the documentation and I obtained approval from the interior ministry, but then … the Guardian Council intervened and discarded my candidacy with ridiculous excuses… and then they rethought it, and readmitted me.” February 15, 2008 in an interview with Adnkronos International
The Khomeini Family
            “They attack us, and above all attack Hassan Khomeini, because they fail to remember that many are deviating from the path outlined by our grandfather… If today we are targeting certain political forces and certain politicians, it is really because people consider us faithful custodians of the thoughts of the imam Khomeini and so we get upset with whoever wants to move our country and our revolution away from the path outlined by the founder of the Islamic republic.
            “Striking the heirs of Ayatollah Khomeini is intended to strike the ideals that 29 years ago led millions of Iranians to produce a revolution.” February 15, 2008 in an interview with Adnkronos International 

Click here and here to view Ali’s Facebook pages.
Hassan Khomeini
      Born in 1972, Hassan Khomeini is a mid-ranking cleric, a hojatoleslam. He is widely considered the most prominent of the grandchildren and the apparent heir of Khomeini’s legacy. In a May 2013 letter, Hassan called former President Rafsanjani’s disqualification from running in the presidential election “unbelievable.”
      Hassan spent much of his childhood in the holy city of Qom in Iran. He also visited his grandfather in exile in Iraq and France in the 1970s. Hassan became a cleric in 1993 and then taught courses on Islam. In 1995, he was appointed as caretaker of Ayatollah Khomeini’s mausoleum in Qom, where Hassan’s father is also buried. He heads the Institute for the Compilation and Publication of Imam Khomeini’s Works, an organization that preserves the late leader’s original publications and achievements.
            Hassan kept a relatively low profile until 2002, when a university professor was sentenced to death for insulting Islam. Professor Hashem Aghajari argued that each generation should be able to interpret Islam on its own. Hassan reportedly protested the sentence with about 1,000 students in November 2002. 
            Hassan has spoken out against military interference in politics. He also criticized the disqualification of nearly 2,000 candidates from running for parliament in 2008. Most of them were reformists, including Hassan’s cousin Ali Eshraghi.Hassan’s comments prompted a harsh reaction from conservatives, who accused him of corruption.
            Hassan reportedly supported reformist presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi in 2009. Hassan reportedly went on a trip outside Iran before Ahmadinejad’s August 2009 inauguration ceremony. Conservative publications criticized Hassan’s move and interpreted his absence as opposition to the election results.
            In June 2010, Hassan spoke at a ceremony marking his grandfather’s death. But his speech was cut short by hardliners chanting “Death to Mousavi!” and shouting slogans in support of Iran’s current supreme leader. The incident may have been the first time a Khomeini family member had been insulted in a public venue.
Politics and Iran’s Government
            People who claim that they are faithful to ‎Imam [Khomeini], must be sensitive to implementation of his explicit orders…The presence of a gun in politics means the end of all dialogue.” February 2008 in an interview with Shahrvand-e-Emrooz magazine
Khomeini’s Legacy
            “We should historically restudy the Imam [Khomeini’s] lessons and find out what he has taught our nation.” May 2012 to parliamentarians
            “In revolutions, social institutions undergo changes and political structures also change as a result… Extremism is usually the greatest danger to a movement.” December 2011 in an address to Foreign Ministry officials
Yasser Khomeini  
      Yasser, a mid-ranking cleric, regularly attended reformist gatherings prior to the 2009 presidential election. Yasser supported reformist candidate Mehdi Karroubi, while his two brothers, Ali and Hassan Khomeini, supported Mousavi.
      Yasser visited Karroubi after his house was allegedly attacked by the Basij militia in September 2010. In early 2011, reformist leaders Karroubi and Mousavi were placed under house arrest. Yasser called their detention an “unacceptable measure.” He also expressed hope that the government would prudently deal with people based on the rule of law.
Ali Khomeini
      Ali, also a mid-ranking cleric, is married to the granddaughter of Iraqi cleric Ayatollah Ali Sistani—one of the world’s most influential Shiite clerics. The marriage brings together the families of two clerics from rival religious schools.
      Ali spent part of his childhood with his grandfather in exile. Ali first gained public attention at a young age, from a photo of him kissing his grandfather on the cheek. This photo was often disseminated to show the late supreme leader’s compassion for children and his family.
            Ali gave speeches throughout Iran and urged people to vote for Mir Hossein Mousavi before the 2009 presidential election. On the 20th anniversary of Ayatollah Khomeini’s death, Ali stressed, “the further we get from my grandfather’s ideas, the less legitimate the regime becomes”—just seven days before the June 12, 2009 presidential election.
Hossein Khomeini
      Born in 1958, Hossein is the oldest grandson and arguably the most rebellious Khomeini grandchild. The mid-ranking cleric has opposed Iran’s theocratic system of government for three decades. Hossein was arrested in 1981 for reportedly claiming that the new Islamic government was “worse than that of the Shah and the Mongols.”
      The cleric called for a referendum to decide how Iran should be governed in a 2003 BBC interview. He said that the early supporters of the 1979 Islamic Revolution had become a minority in Iran. Hossein claimed that if his grandfather were still alive, he would have opposed Iran’s leaders.
            Hossein temporarily moved to Karbala, Iraq after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. He intended to press for democratic reform in Iran based on momentum from Iraq, according to an August 2003 interview with The New York Times. He also traveled to the United States and met with the former shah’s son.
            Hossein has supported U.S. or foreign intervention to liberate Iran from the “dictatorship of clerics.” “Freedom needs to come to Iran in any way possible, whether by internal development or external interference,” he said in a June 2006 interview with Al Arabiya for the 17th anniversary of his grandfather’s death. The following are Hossein’s remarks on key issues.
Politics and Iran’s Government
            “Iran will accumulate true strength only when it re-adopts the principles of freedom and democracy. Power is not achieved by bombs and weapons… My grandfather's revolution has devoured its children and has strayed from its course.” June 2006 in a television interview with Al Arabiya
            “Now we have had 25 years of a failed Islamic revolution in Iran, and the people do not want an Islamic regime anymore.” October 2003 in an interview with Slate.com
            “Today, Iranian people again want democracy, they want freedom. Furthermore they have experienced everything, they have experience theocracy in Iran, and they have come to understand that religion and government cannot be one and the same.”  September 2003 in an interview with BBC News
U.S. Policy
            “Freedom is more important than bread. But if there's no way for freedom in Iran other than American intervention, I think the people would accept that. I would accept it, too, because it's in accord with my faith.” August 2005 in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle Foreign Service
            “The best way is for the United States to help the movement for democracy in Iran… They should look at this issue very seriously and not as dispassionately as they have been, waiting for something to happen and then get involved.” September 2003 in an interview with BBC News
Women’s Rights
            “I am personally in favor of the hijab [head covering], but not like this. The hijab is a personal issue. If a woman wants, she may [wear it], and if she doesn't, she may [refuse it].” June 2006 in a television interview with Al Arabiya
Helia Ighani is recent graduate from the George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs and a research assistant at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
Garrett Nada is a Program Assistant in the Center for Conflict Management at the United States Institute of Peace.
Online news media are welcome to republish original blog postings from this website in full, with a citation and link back to The Iran Primer website (www.iranprimer.com) as the original source. Any edits must be authorized by the author. Permission to reprint excerpts from The Iran Primer book should be directed to permissions@usip.org


Latest on the Race: How to Follow Candidates

            By late May 2013, all eight presidential candidates had set up campaign websites or social media websites. Some of their campaigns even appeared to have made Twitter and Facebook accounts, both of which are blocked in Iran. The candidates’ supporters have also launched dozens of unofficial blogs, websites and social media accounts. The following is a rundown of the candidates’ websites and social media.

Saeed Jalili

Hassan Rouhani


Mohsen Rezaei



Ali Akbar Velayati

Facebook supporter page


Gholam Ali Haddad-Adel




Mohammad Gharazi





Photo Credits:
Mohsen Rezaei by درفش کاویانی (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Hassan Rouhani by Mojtaba Salimi (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0  (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0 )], via Wikimedia Commons


Online news media are welcome to republish original blog postings from this website in full, with a citation and link back to The Iran Primer website (www.iranprimer.com) as the original source. Any edits must be authorized by the author. Permission to reprint excerpts from The Iran Primer book should be directed to permissions@usip.org

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