United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

US Briefs on April Vienna Nuke Talks

      On April 4, the U.S. State Department provided a briefing on the upcoming nuclear negotiations between Iran and the world’s six major powers – Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States. The two sides are scheduled to meet on April 7 in Vienna, Austria. A senior Obama administration official compared the talks to solving a Rubik’s cube and said the two sides are looking to start drafting the final agreement in May. “We can’t look at any one issue in isolation, but rather will have to consider what package we can all agree to that will meet the objectives that we have,” said the official. The briefing was released amid news reports that the U.S. Treasury has granted a license to Boeing to sell spare aircraft parts to Iran. The following are excerpts from the State Department briefing.

Background Briefing Senior Administration Official
on the Upcoming P5+1 Talks on Iran’s Nuclear Program
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  We head back to Vienna for this round of talks clear-eyed about the challenges ahead and determined to keep making progress on these very difficult issues.  We will have more topical discussions like we had in March, with both sides laying out their positions and trying to better understand where each of us are on the various issues.  This process has been helpful in setting the table as we prepare to dive much more deeply into what a comprehensive agreement might actually look like on paper and what everyone might be able to agree to. 
As always, these political director conversations follow on the tremendous work of our experts, who have been and are still now in Vienna meeting with their counterparts and will be doing so through probably mid-day on Saturday.  And they have had quite intense, and from the initial readouts I’ve gotten, continue to be productive and constructive conversations.  As we’ve said, putting this agreement together will really be like solving a Rubik’s cube.  We can’t look at any one issue in isolation, but rather will have to consider what package we can all agree to that will meet the objectives that we have.
We are looking to ensure we have the right combination of measures in place to ensure Iran cannot acquire a nuclear weapon and that it’s program is exclusively peaceful.  As we work to bridge the gaps that exist to see if we can find that right combination, the pace of our work will intensify even more than it is today. 
QUESTION:  First off, about the reports that have resurfaced of a possible Iran-Russia $20 billion oil-for-goods deal.  And in the past, the White House and other senior Administration officials have expressed concern that this would be a serious concern, but they have also said that there is no sign of Russia or anyone else violating the oil sanctions.  So could we find out from you what is your latest on that?  What information do you have about that deal possibly going ahead? 
And related to that, has the problems – have the problems with Russia over Crimea bled over into the Iran negotiations at any level?  We’ve seen some remarks from Sergei Ryabkov, that suggested that in the aftermath of the last talks that Russia might play the Iran card against the U.S. in this Crimea-Ukraine issue.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  On the Russia-Iran oil-for-goods, we’ve seen reports that you all have written on the purported deal or potential for a deal between Russia and Iran.  We do not have any information to suggest this deal has been culminated or implemented or begun to be executed or finalized.  We’ve been very clear about our concerns with both parties regarding this or any similar deal.  If such a deal were to happen, it appears it would be inconsistent with the terms of the P5+1 plus European Union Joint Plan of Action and could potentially trigger U.S. sanctions against the entity and individuals involved in any related transaction.  But we have conveyed this directly to all parties, as we do in any situation that we see developing where there might be concerns of sanctionable activity. 
Regarding Russia and its illegitimate action in Crimea, which we still do not and the international community does not recognize as legal and legitimate – we believe in the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine, including Crimea.  It has not had any appreciable or substantive impact on the negotiations.  As I said at the end of the last round, Sergei Ryabkov was constructive, professional, and very much focused, as were all the members of the P5+1 and the European Union on our work.  My understanding is in the experts talks that have been ongoing the same is true.  And I’m aware of the remarks, obviously, that Sergei made after the last round.  We have all understood privately that we have to be very mindful of the tremendous responsibility that the United Nations has given to the P5+1 and the European Union to try to reach an agreement with Iran, and that has to be the focus of our attention. 
QUESTION:  Thank you for doing this one, Senior Administration Official.  (Laughter.)  I’m just wondering – I mean, I know that there’s been this goal to do it within a year, but I mean, how far along do you really think you are in terms of – I know you say it’s a Rubik’s cube, you’ll need to fit all the pieces together.  But do you find that you’re making progress towards that goal?  And I mean, are you confident that you’re going to be able to finish it within the year?  I guess that’s my main question.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Elise, we are committed to – all of the parties are committed to not finishing this in a year but finishing this in the six-month frame of the Joint Plan of Action by July 20th.  And I’m absolutely convinced that we can, though the real issue is not about whether you can write the words on paper, do the drafting; it’s about the choices that Iran has to make, and some of them are very difficult.  And in order to ensure that they will not obtain a nuclear weapon and that the international community has the assurances it needs that their program is entirely and exclusively peaceful, they will have to make some significant changes and some significant choices.  So this will be about the decisions that Iran makes, but the drafting is certainly doable.
QUESTION:  But how close are you?  Not – I don’t expect at this point in the process that you would be close to a deal.  But in terms of how the negotiations are progressing, do you see --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  We have – we set out a work plan of how we were going to proceed to get to a comprehensive agreement, and we are on pace with the work plan that was set out.  We were very conscious that we were going to use the March and April rounds to go over every single issue that we believed had to be addressed in a comprehensive agreement and make sure we understood each other on those issues, both at a macro level as well as at a technical level, because this is a highly, highly, highly technical agreement.  And that’s why – pardon me while I take a sip of water, the allergy season has gotten to me.  That is why it’s so critical that our experts spend quite a bit of time in conversation going through the technical details of what each other means by what they are saying. 
So we are on pace with that work plan, looking toward beginning drafting in May and as we get through this month and begin to start to work that process.  So we’re on pace with the work plan that we all set out with each other. 
QUESTION:  I wanted to follow up on the question. And the fact that you just said that you’re not going to start drafting until May, I mean, my understanding is that there are still some pretty serious fundamental disagreements on some of the main things expected from the beginning would be difficult, namely enrichment, R&D, the scope of that, how much uranium they’re going to be able to keep and what level at that to keep at any given time.  How much progress have you made in the last few weeks in overcoming the differences on those very difficult issues which are going to be the ones that ultimately decide success or failure of this whole process?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Well, I think I’ve told you all before so you won’t be surprised to hear me say again that I’m not going to negotiate in public.  What I will say is that we understand each other very well.  We know where we can see points of agreement.  We know where the gaps are that have to be bridged.  But I’ve also said this is a Rubik’s cube, and where one makes progress on one element may mean there’s more trade space on another element.  So it’s very – it’s literally impossible to say okay, I can see a way forward here without understanding its impact on the way forward there.  So it has to be looked at in its entirety, not just element by element. 
QUESTION:  But if I can just follow up quickly, even though – I mean, stepping away from the Rubik’s cube analogy for a moment, what percentage of the issues would you say that you’ve managed to reach some kind of understanding and what percentage remains difficult?  And I realize that some – there could be 2 percent of the issues that are unresolved, and those could ultimately break the deal. 
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Well, I think you’ve answered your own question, which is the percentages don’t matter, even if I could give you a percentage, which I can’t.  But the percentages don’t matter because the Joint Plan of Action says nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, and I would add to that nothing is agreed till everyone agrees to it. 
So it doesn’t matter, exactly as you said.  Even if you got agreement on everything but there were two last sticking points, you have to resolve those two last sticking points.  As we finished the Joint Plan of Action, there were a handful of brackets, and until you resolved all of those brackets, there was no agreement, even though you’d resolved a great deal of the text.  So it only matters when you get to an agreement. 
QUESTION:  Hi.  Thanks.  I was wondering – the last round of talks the U.S. negotiations team didn’t go to Israel after the talks to brief, while that usually used to be the case.  I was wondering if there’s any plan to do it now. 
And the second question:  There was – there were reports that the U.S. gave Iran some kind of a proposal about transforming the Arak reactor from a heavy-water reactor to a light-water reactor.  Can you say anything about that? 
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  So we maintain very close consultations with a number of partners and countries of interest all around the world, including Israel.  And sometimes that means that I’ve traveled with my team to brief.  Sometimes that means we do it by a video conference or phone or meetings here in Washington.  So there are a variety ways, but that close consultation with Israel and with a number of other countries continues on a regular basis, and will for this round as well. 
In terms of proposals about the Arak reactor, I’m not going to discuss any specifics in these briefings, as you can imagine.  This is a negotiation, and that means it has to stay in the room.
QUESTION:  Hi.  I think this is sort of a variation on the theme that others have spoken on before.  The Iranians said at the close of the last negotiations that we’ve done the framework planning, we’ve done the technical stuff, and the next time we’re going to get down to real issues.  But it doesn’t sound, from what you’re saying, that that’s necessarily the case, that you’re still – at least until the first of May, you’re still kind of laying the table.  Is that – would that be a fair assessment? 
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  No.  Well, Karen, when you lay the table, you get down to real and serious issues.  I think Minister Zarif laid out the issues that we held discussions on in the last round, and believe me, they were quite substantive discussions, quite detailed, quite technical.  And in those discussions, one begins to – in fact begin to see the areas of agreement and the areas where there are still gaps that have to be overcome. 
So I would say we’ve been getting down to the serious business even in the last round.  We will do that on all of the remaining issues as well as revisit some of the issues from the last round, because we sent our experts away with a set of work products that we wanted from them to try to be able to advance our discussions further.  So all of this work is quite substantive, quite detailed, quite technical, and meant to make the actual drafting an easier process. 
QUESTION:  The Iranians have made several comments over the past couple of weeks basically saying under no circumstances will we give up the Arak reactor and things along those lines.  Are those things that you just consider part of the chaff as the negotiations go on, or to what extent do you feel that you have to clarify those issues with the negotiators when you sit down? 
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  We’re quite direct and quite straightforward with each other, so I don’t think there’s any mystery about positions.  And what we are focused on is what is discussed in the room, not what anyone says on the outside. 
QUESTION:  Hi.  Thank you for doing this.  Just – I don’t want to beat this to death, but but when you say you’re getting down to drafting, does that mean that that’s when the give-and-take of finding out how much concessions people are willing to make is going on, or will that be more in June than in May?
And a second question:  What is your assessment at this point about how the sanctions regime overall is holding up?  And do you see any signs that the Iranians might be using the time you’re taking to lay the table to determine just how much they’re going to have to give in terms of where the sanctions regime is in May or June?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  So what I would say, Michael, is from day one, we were already testing each other, looking at assumptions, seeing where there might be areas of agreement, areas that had to be bridged.  So that give-and-take starts the moment you begin a discussion.  The negotiations have been going on since before the Joint Plan of Action over the comprehensive agreement, and the Joint Plan of Action, in fact, laid a framework for the comprehensive agreement.  So give-and-take has been going on for months now.  So we’re not talking about, all of a sudden, this is going to start one day.  It began many months ago.  And all of it set a frame and all of it set the conditions for a comprehensive agreement.
So I don’t think you can say we’re going to wait until May or going to wait until June or going to wait until July.  It is constant.  It is constant.  And it’ll get refined and refined and refined until we hope we can reach a comprehensive agreement that ensures that Iran will not obtain a nuclear weapon and that the international community is assured that its program is entirely and exclusively peaceful.
As far as the sanctions regime is holding up, I think that it is.  We gave limited, targeted relief for the six-month period of the Joint Plan of Action.  We have fulfilled our commitments in that regard.  And that is all moving forward in the way that had been agreed to.  And so Iran is getting that limited targeted relief, and I’m sure that Iran is assessing what it needs for the future, how it needs it, and what impact that has on getting to a comprehensive agreement, just as we are assessing it from the other side of the table.
QUESTION:  Can I just – a quick follow-up?  If the give-and-take has started, do you already have an idea about how likely it is that you’re going to get an acceptable package and get compromise on those key terms that make up the Rubik’s Cube?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I go back to what I said a moment ago:  Until everything is agreed, nothing is agreed.
QUESTION:  Hello, hi.  Thanks for doing this.  I have just a couple questions, one on levels of Iranian oil exports.  There are reports that those export levels are rising, have been rising rapidly the past few months.  Is it still your understanding that this level is within what’s allowed by the JPOA?  And what are you – are you coordinating not only with China but also countries like Japan and the ROK and India, who have shown quite an appetite for Iranian oil?
And then also, how do you expect this issue of the Iranian ambassadorial nomination to the UN, Mr. Aboutalebi, to impact the nomination – the negotiations?  I know Marie has said that they’re separate, but realistically, given the importance of congressional involvement and the fact that so many members of Congress have expressed outrage about this, what’s your level of concern that this could be an issue going forward?  Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  In terms of the oil exports, as we have always said, we expect there to be fluctuations.  They go up and down month to month.  What we care about is the aggregate over the period of time that’s agreed to.  We have had teams talk to each of the remaining importers of Iranian oil, and we feel comfortable that in fact, they will meet the target that we have, and there’s nothing to lead us to believe otherwise at this time.  We, of course, keep continuous eye on this and in continuous discussion with all of the importers.
In terms of the report that there is a possible nomination for the Iranian permanent representative at the United Nations, we of course have seen these reports.  If in fact this possible nomination were in fact the person nominated, it would be extremely troubling, as both our deputy spokesperson has said and as the White House spokesperson has said.  We are taking a close look at this case now and we have raised our serious concerns about this possible nomination with the Government of Iran through a variety of channels that we use to convey our concerns.
QUESTION:  Yes.  I just wondered – I’ve got two or three questions, actually.  The first one:  In recent days in Washington, there have been suggestions that there should be some kind of a threat of use of force by President – by the President of the United States to strengthen any kind of agreement that is going to be reached, hopefully.  Is that a new development?  Is that going to change attitudes in Iran, do you think?  A.
B, on the issue of Russia and how they’re going to play this Iranian card or not playing the Iranian card, I just wondered, you said, if they do come with – on that agreement about this huge deal on oil exports and so on, you said it would be inconsistent with Iran +5 talks and its aims.  If that happens, what will be the position of the United States within the P5+1? 
And a third question:  The third question is about these reports from Iran that Iran is actually having trouble getting its hands on the money that was supposed to be released under the Geneva agreement.  Have you heard that?  Can you confirm that?  And do you know why that – there’s a problem there?  Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Sure.  I think you’re referring to a report about a Brookings Institution publication, and we very much value all of the think tanks in Washington, D.C.  Obviously, members of Congress, leaders and thinkers all over the world who have suggested things to us in the negotiation have put down on paper their ideas about how things go forward, and all of this is a very valuable input to our thinking through this negotiation.  I would point out, just for a factual matter, I think the way that particular report is written, as you said, is that Congress would take such action if Iran pulled out of a negotiated agreement.  So it’s really something that I think they were discussing down the road.  But regardless, we listen to all variety of voices with very, very different positions because this is tough, this is difficult, and we’re happy to hear everybody’s ideas.  
In terms of the Russia for oil deal, if it – a Russia-Iran oil deal, if it happened, we would take a look at the deal, and if it in fact was sanctionable, we would take the appropriate action.  All of the members – rest of the members of the P5+1 and the European Union are well aware of the implications if such an agreement were to occur. 
And third, your question about Iran having trouble getting their hands – you’ll have to ask the Iranians for their comments on that.  The United States, the European Union, we have done everything that we made a commitment to do in the Joint Plan of Action and our teams have been working very hard to facilitate everything that was required in the JPOA. 
QUESTION: I have a question about a few reports which we’re seeing there about Congress going to move towards a new set of sanctions, non-nuclear terrorism related, on Iran.  Al-Monitor also reported on this first.  And I wanted to see if the – you’re aware of this move, and if yes, how do you think or how the Administration think it’s going to affect the talks with Iran?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  We’ve seen reports that folks are considering some additional legislation that are non-nuclear related.  I can’t comment on legislative proposals that I haven’t seen.
# # #

Paper: Change or More of the Same for Iran?

      On March 26, the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars convened a panel of four experts to discuss prospects for change in Iran during the next five years. The Middle East Program then published a compilation of short papers based on their presentations. The following are excerpts.

Shaul Bakhash (moderator)
Clarence J. Robin Professor of History, George Mason University
           Rouhani faces formidable obstacles in his cautious, measured attempt to reorient Iran’s foreign policy, to reintroduce sensible management of the economy, and to restore to Iranians some measure of political freedom. Critics on the right are already sniping at his attempt to reach an agreement over Iran’s nuclear program with the P5+1countries. The judiciary and the security services deliberately seek to undercut his political liberalization measures and have blocked the release of a larger number of political prisoners. Any attempt to curtail the role of parastatal organizations in the economy, to reduce subsidies, and to attract foreign investment to Iran will be firmly resisted. It remains to be seen whether this time, a mildly reformist president will manage to carry his agenda to completion, or whether the pattern of the past will be repeated and a reformist president’s initial successes will be undercut or reversed by a conservative reaction.
Bernard Hourcade
Global Fellow, Wilson Center; and Senior Research Fellow Emeritus, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Paris, France
            The role of political factions changed after Rouhani developed political consensus among different factions. The cabinet is de facto a coalition of several factions supporting the new government and the policy of dialogue under the leadership of the Supreme Leader. Within the current context of this complex national unity government, further complicated by issues of sanctions and the potential nuclear deal, the minority of Islamist hardliners (mainly the Resistance Front/Paydari) have become the new real opposition.
            These Islamic “Tea Parties” are very active but comprise no more than one-third of the current Majles. They are supported by some preeminent policymakers, clerics, and members of the Pasdaran and Basij, and they have strong networks, efficient newspapers, and media connections. Their criticism of the negotiations between Iran and the P5+1, specifically on human rights and Syria, remains within the framework of legitimate opposition in any republic. They are a traditional “democratic” opposition and currently do not have the clear support of the Supreme Leader, who trusts President Rouhani.
            The core—or the weak center—of the current parliament is made up of “independents.” They are local MPs but also policymakers who do not want to support any radical faction (reformist or radical Islamist). In the political context of 2012, choosing this political path was a way to oppose the Islamist hardliners (Resistance Front/Paydari) and even the United Front of Conservatives (Motahed) majority, a group close to the Supreme Leader. Most of them strongly support the new policies of “moderation” and dialogue.” Both groups are open to globalization but also linked to the Islamic cultural values—and political networks—of the Islamic regime. They are good representative of the new middle bourgeoisie.
            The main question at stake in the next parliamentary elections will be the emergence—or not—of a political group able to sustain the current imposed consensus supporting the international opening of Iran. A positive strong majority supporting the new policy is necessary for the new economic and political emergence of Iran and to give the international community confidence to lift economic sanctions following political agreement on the nuclear issue.
Bijan Khajehpour
Managing Partner, Atieh International
            Iran is at an important juncture in its economic development. The positive outlook of sanctions relief and a number of reasonable economic and monetary policies have the potential to return the country to a positive economic outlook. However, one should not expect a fast-paced economic recovery, not only because the current economic crisis is very deep, but also because the social and political consequences of fast-paced economic growth would not be manageable in a political constellation like Iran’s. In other words, economic recovery should be managed in a way that does not lead to a new wave of populism that can feed itself from disappointed social classes. 
            All indications show that the new government understands how to draft and implement sustainable policies; however, the success of these policies will also depend on continued sanctions relief and a gradual normalization of Iran’s relations with Western powers.
Roberto Toscano
Former Public Policy Scholar, Wilson Center; President, Intercultura Foundation; Former Italian Ambassador to India, 2008-2010; Former Italian Ambassador to Iran, 2003-2008
The Optimist Perspective
            Among Iranian citizens, there is a very high margin of convergence on the goal of attaining the status of “normal country”—meaning a country that is not isolated, is not considered a pariah and a threat, is modern economically, and is respected politically. At the same time, there is also the awareness that such a goal cannot be attained without normalizing relations with the United States. In Iran, there are many reasons for grievance against Washington (from the 1953 coup against Mohammad Mossadeq to the present sanctions), yet what strikes any visitor to Iran, and especially American visitors, is that there is no widespread anti-Americanism, but, rather, a generalized attitude of positive interest and even friendliness.
            The nuclear issue, which was the main stumbling block to the normalization of relations with the United States and with the world, is turning out to be a fundamental step toward that goal. The main obstacle is now the most promising occasion.
The Pessimist Perspective
            The president of Iran is actually more of a prime minister (in a presidential type of system) than a president, since the real head of state and government is the Supreme Leader. If it is true that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei is allowing and supporting Rouhani’s actions, there are also signals that he did not sign a blank check but reserves the right not only to oversee but also to curtail and even stop, if needed, the whole process. There is nothing new in this: Khamenei both allowed and limited, and in some cases stopped, very different political formulas that he thought were necessary at a given stage in Iran’s politics—from Rafsanjani’s normalization of the state and economy to Khatami’s reformism to Ahmadinejad’s populism.
            Khamenei is allowing movement but remains ready to hit the brakes. In the meantime, he is sending out warning signals not to go too far and also not to abandon some fundamental “identity markers” for the Islamic Republic. Such markers include opposing the release of Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi and artificially reviving the Holocaust issue (highly damaging for Iran and highly unpopular within Iranian public opinion) in order to mark the limits of normalization with the United States and also to shift to a more moderate line on the Israeli-Palestinian issue.
Robin Wright
Wilson Center-USIP Distinguished Scholar
            Iran has made a strategic recalculation of its foreign policy because the nuclear deal is in many ways about a lot more than just the nuclear deal. It’s really about securing the Islamic Republic’s future.
            First, the strategic recalculation reflects changes in the regional balance as well as the U.S. role in the Middle East and South Asia. The Iranians now believe a Salafi circle is surrounding them, which has changed their thinking in very fundamental ways. They no longer see the United States as the threat or the challenge to their interest. They now see the United States as, in some ways, a country with which they have common national security concerns.
            The second reason that Iran is in the midst of a strategic recalculation relates to its economy. Tehran’s mismanagement, corruption, and the growing economic gap motivate Iran even more than economic sanctions do.
            The third reason that Iran will continue to reach out to the foreign community—and to a lesser degree to the United States—is because Iran believes it is strategically lonely. Iranians think they are a minority ethnically on every single border.
            The fourth reason for this opening to the outside world is demography. The majority of Iranians have now been born since the revolution; the majority of voters have been born since the revolution.
            The fifth factor is that their goals are fairly realistic. Iran now thinks in terms of breaking sanctions, not ending them.
            Finally, the biggest question is whether the Supreme Leader, who has ultimate power in Iran’s bifurcated political system, is really on board. He has so far allowed the process to continue. The negotiating team gives him very detailed descriptions of discussions with the world’s six major powers. There are reportedly some issues he cares about, while on others he is not as deeply involved.
            The bottom line is that there is a genuine prospect for a nuclear deal, but probably with real limits. Iran’s goal is not to improve relations with the United States. Its goal is to better its place in the world, improve the economy, and create an enduring following. Iran’s next agenda, after a nuclear deal, may be bettering relations in the Arab world. Tehran is deeply worried about the growing Shi’ite-Sunni divide, which is arguably deeper than at any point since the original schism in the 7th century, in part because it ripples globally. In the past, tensions have been local or regional, but now the divide spreads right across the Islamic world. And the Iranians want to prevent what they think will isolate them even further than they are now.
Click here for the full text.


Report: Low Confidence in Justice System

            Iranians have low confidence in their justice system, according to a new World Justice Project study. The Islamic Republic ranked 82 among 99 countries on The Rule of Law Index 2014, which drew on more than 100,000 household and expert surveys worldwide. Iranian citizens in Tehran, Mashhad and Isfahan participated in the study.

            The index is based on eight different factors: constraints on government powers, absence of corruption, open government, fundamental rights, order and security, regulatory enforcement, civil justice and criminal justice. Out of seven countries surveyed in the Middle East, Iran ranked last in four categories. The following are excerpts from the report.

Constraints on Government Powers
Assume that a high-ranking government officer is taking government money for personal benefit. Also assume that one of his employees witnesses this conduct, reports it to the relevant authority, and provides sufficient evidence to prove it. Assume that the press obtains the information and publishes the story. Which one of the following outcomes is most likely?
The accusation is completely ignored by the authorities         18%    
An investigation is opened, but it never reaches any conclusions      48%    
The high-ranking government officer is prosecuted and punished (through fines, or time in prison)     35%
Absence of Corruption
Corruption exists in all countries and societies in some form or the other. How many of the following people in Iran do you think are involved in corrupt practices?
Officers working in the national government     40%    
Officers working in the local government           39%    
Members of Parliament/Congress           31%    
Judges and Magistrates      40%    
The police     33%
Open Government
When talking to people about their local government, we often find important differences in how well local authorities perform their duties. Could you please tell us how well or badly you think your local government (Metropolitan, Municipal, or District administration) is performing in the following procedures?
Providing citizens information about the government expenditures           45%
Consulting traditional, civil, and community leaders before making decisions      34%
Providing information in plain language about people’s legal rights, so that everybody can understand them   39%
Providing effective ways to make complaints about public services41%
Providing effective ways to handle complaints against local government officials34%
Order and Security
How safe do you feel walking in your neighborhood at night?
Very safe and safe    65%
Unsafe and very unsafe      35%
Regulatory Enforcement
Please assume that the government decides to build a major public works project in your neighborhood (such as a railway station or a highway), and assume the construction of this public works project requires the demolition of private homes in your community/neighborhood. How likely are these homeowners to be fairly compensated by the government?
Very likely and likely         65%
Unlikely and very unlikely            35%
Civil Justice
Please tell us how serious the following problems are in civil and commercial courts in the city where you live? (10 means a very serious problem):
Duration of cases (they take too much time)       6.2
Inefficient enforcement mechanisms (judgments are difficult to enforce in practice)          3.9
Lack of enough judges or court personnel          4.4
Lack of adequate resources to do the job           2.9
Lack of adequate selection or training of judges and clerks   6
Lack of deterrents to prevent frivolous litigation          3.3
Inefficient alternative dispute mechanisms to resolve disputes outside the courts           4.8
Corruption of judges and judicial officers (they don’t move the cases unless the parties bribe them)     3.6
Insufficient monetary compensation (pay) for judges and court officers       4.1
Lack of mechanisms to track the efficiency of the courts          5.3
Lack of independence of the judiciary from the government’s power           4.8
Criminal Justice
The following question aims at identifying the main problems faced by the criminal investigation system in your country. On a scale from 1 to 10 (with 10 meaning a very serious problem, and 1 meaning not a serious problem), please tell us how significant are the following problems for the criminal investigative services (prosecutors, investigators, judicial police officers, etc.) in the city where you live:
Lack of effective intelligence systems to support criminal investigators       4.4
Lack of proactive investigation methods, such as undercover operations    3.9
Deficient mechanisms to gather information and analyze evidence   5.1
Deficient systems to protect witnesses and whistle-blowers   5
Deficient systems to exchange information between criminal investigative service agencies       4.2
Lack of enough criminal investigators     3.2
Incompetence of criminal investigators   5.4
Lack of technology and adequate resources       5.1
Lack of independence of prosecutors (unable to act against powerful government officials or private parties)           8.9
Corruption of investigators or judicial police    6.4
Corruption of prosecutors 5.1
Excessive length and use of pre-trial detention 6.5
Click here for the full report.

US and Saudi Arabia: Differences on Iran

Interview with David Ottaway by Faris Al Sulayman

What came out of President Obama’s trip to Saudi Arabia and discussions on pressing issues of mutual concern, especially on Iran nuclear talks?
           Obama and King Abdullah agreed that their shared goal is to prevent Iran from gaining a nuclear weapons capability. But Saudi Arabia is perhaps more concerned about the implications of improved U.S.-Iran relations if a nuclear agreement is reached. The Sunni kingdom is worried about a tilt in U.S. foreign policy toward Shiite Iran at the expense of Saudi Arabia and the other Sunni sheikhdoms. Obama has said that he is willing to repair the U.S.-Iran relationship. But he has not spelled out what this might mean in practice and what other issues the two countries could cooperate on.
     Washington and Tehran were holding secret talks for a year starting with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad then under President Hassan Rouhani. The Obama administration had not shared the content of those discussions with its Arab allies, which has raised enormous suspicions in the Gulf about U.S. intentions for Iran.
     President Obama probably found it difficult to provide the kind of assurances that the Saudi leadership is seeking on Iran and nuclear negotiations.
What are the basic differences between the United States and Saudi Arabia on Iran?
            The United States and Saudi Arabia appear to have different visions for solving the Iranian nuclear dispute. Saudi Arabia, much like Israel, wants Iran to relinquish its uranium enrichment capabilities or at least cap enrichment at 5 percent – far below weapons grade, or 90 percent. Riyadh also wants Iran’s existing stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium to be shipped out of the country or turned into a form that cannot be used to fuel a weapon. But the United States and the other five major world powers negotiating with Iran – Britain, China, France, Germany and China – may be open to allowing Tehran to keep limited enrichment capabilities.
     Riyadh also wants Washington to take a much more aggressive role in ending President Bashar Assad’s rule in Syria. Damascus is Tehran’s closest ally in the Middle East, so the main battle ground between Saudi Arabia and Iran is Syria. Riyadh is keen on the United States providing more sophisticated arms — anti-aircraft missiles in particular—to opposition forces.
            Washington and Riyadh also differ in their strategic approach to the Syrian conflict. Tehran has reportedly invested millions of dollars in Syria’s economy and provided training and arms to its army. So Saudi Arabia’s involvement in Syria is part of a wider effort to curb Iranian influence in the Sunni Arab world. The Sunni kingdom seems dedicated to rooting out the Alawite regime as a way to cut off Iran.
If the world’s six major powers and Iran reach an agreement that allows Tehran to continue enriching uranium, might Riyadh pursue its own nuclear program?
            Saudi Arabia is further developing its relationship with Pakistan, which became the world’s first Muslim nuclear power in the early 1970s. Riyadh has already built a new center for medium range missiles, and it has a new generation of Chinese missiles. Saudi officials have also been speaking with Chinese military and political leaders.
           If Tehran sprinted towards a nuclear weapons capability, Riyadh would likely call on Islamabad to provide warheads for those missiles – shortening the process of becoming a nuclear power. But Saudi Arabia is highly unlikely to enlist Pakistani help unless Iran pushes its program forward.

 Military Balance

How are Saudi Arabia’s policies influenced by its relationship with the wider Islamic world? 
           First, Saudi Arabia sees itself as the religious leader of the Sunni Arab world. But it is increasingly trying to be the political leader because it has wherewithal to spend money on helping its allies. Saudi leaders feel vindicated by the failures of the Arab spring, and they would like to assert their political and financial weight in the Arab world. The problem is that they have little military throw weight. Saudi Arabia still depends on the United States for its military and security apparatuses and it has a limited ability to project force outside its borders.
Oil Balance

David Ottaway is a senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
Faris Al Sulayman was a research assistant at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars from 2013-2014.
*Estimated spending, includes US Foreign Military Assistance via IISS
** Based on “The Gulf Military Balance” report by Anthony Cordesman and Bryan Gold. Click here for Cordesman’s chapter on Iran’s conventional military. Also see The International Institute for Strategic Studies’ annual assessment of worldwide military capabilities.


EU for Iran Role in Syria Diplomacy, Greater Engagement

            On April 3, the European Union Parliament passed a resolution calling for an Iranian role in Syria diplomacy and greater E.U.-Iran engagement. Parliament also called on Tehran to address its human rights record and comply with international obligations. The following are excerpts from the resolution.

On the nuclear issue
1.   Welcomes the Geneva interim agreement between the E3/EU+3 and Iran on Iran’s nuclear programme; considers it vital that all parties continue to engage constructively in the negotiating process so that the final comprehensive agreement can be concluded within the agreed timeframe;
2.   Stresses that there can be no alternative to a peaceful negotiated solution that addresses the international community’s concerns regarding the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear programme and regional sensitivities as well as Iran’s security sensitivities;
3.   Welcomes the decisions taken by the Council at its meeting of 20 January 2014 with a view to implementing the Joint Plan of Action, in particular the provisions on partial sanction relief; stresses the crucial importance of reliably monitoring Iran’s implementation of its commitments under the Joint Plan of Action; believes that, once a comprehensive agreement ensuring the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear programme is reached, nuclear-related sanctions against Iran should be gradually removed;
On prospects for EU–Iran relations
4.   Stresses that more constructive relations with Iran are contingent on progress in the full implementation of Iran’s commitments under the Joint Plan of Action; hopes that the progress in the implementation of the Joint Plan of Action and in the negotiations for the Geneva agreement will pave the way for more constructive relations between the EU and Iran, including as regards issues of regional concern such as the civil war in Syria and the fight against all forms of terrorism and its causes, but also in areas such as economic
development, trade agreements, the rule of law and the promotion of human rights;
5.   Calls on the European External Action Service (EEAS) to carry out all the preparatory work for the opening of a Union delegation in Tehran by the end of 2014; strongly believes that this would be an efficient tool for influencing Iranian policies and would also support the dialogue on issues such as human and minority rights;
10. Calls for the EU to pursue a more independent policy towards Iran, while coordinating with allies and partners;
On regional issues
11. Considers that Iran should use its considerable influence in Syria to stop the bloody civil war and calls on Iran’s leadership to adopt a constructive role in the international efforts to find a solution to the Syrian crisis; considers that Iran should be involved in all discussions to that end, provided that it shows commitment to finding a diplomatic solution to the crises in Syria and in the region;
12. Considers that greater engagement between the EU and Iran on the basis of credible implementation of the Joint Plan of Action and, in the future, of the comprehensive agreement, could be beneficial in terms of stabilising the situation in the Middle East; encourages the EU, in particular, to facilitate dialogue between Iran and members of the Gulf Cooperation Council;
On human rights
14. Welcomes the release of several prisoners of conscience in Iran, including the human rights lawyer and Sakharov Prize winner Nasrin Sotoudeh, and calls on the Iranian authorities to release all imprisoned human rights defenders, political prisoners, trade unionists and labour activists, and those detained after the 2009 presidential elections; notes with interest President Hassan Rouhani’s initiative of formulating a Charter of Citizens’ Rights; expresses continued grave concern, however, regarding the human rights situation in Iran, in particular the widespread allegations of torture, unfair trials –– including of lawyers and human rights defenders – and impunity for human rights violations; expresses alarm with regard to the high number of executions in 2013 and 2014, including of minors; notes that most of the 2013 executions were carried out during the last five months of the year; condemns the restrictions on freedom of information, freedom of association, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, academic freedom, freedom of education and freedom of movement, as well as the repression and discrimination on the basis of religion, belief, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation that persist, inter alia against the Baha’i community, Christians, apostates and converts;
15. Takes the view that the Charter of Citizens’ Rights should comply fully with Iran’s international obligations, particularly as regards non-discrimination and the right to life, strengthening the prohibition of torture, ensuring full freedom of religion and belief, and guaranteeing freedom of expression, which is currently restricted by the vaguely formulated provision on the ‘national-security-related offence’;
16. Calls, therefore, for the EU to mainstream human rights in all aspects of its relations with Iran; believes that a high-level and inclusive human rights dialogue with Iran should be part of the future policy framework for bilateral EU–Iran relations; calls for the EU to start a human rights dialogue with Iran that includes the judiciary and security forces and establishes clearly defined benchmarks against which progress can be measured; calls for the EU to support fully the work of the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, and calls on Iran to grant him an immediate and unconditional entry visa; encourages UN High Commissioner Navi Pillay to take up the Iranian authorities’ invitation to visit Iran; calls on Iran to declare a moratorium on the death penalty;
Click here for the full resolution.

Connect With Us

Our Partners

Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars Logo