United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

Former Officials Debate Iran-U.S. Relations

            On February 23, former senior officials debated prospects for a real deal on the nuclear issue at the 2013 Camden Conference. Seyed Hossein Mousavian opened with remarks on Iran-U.S. relations. He served as spokesman for Iran in its nuclear negotiations with the European Union from 2003 to 2005. Former Ambassador Nicholas Burns served as Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs from 2005 to 2008, and he led negotiations with Iran. The following is a video of the exchange.

Iran’s Statement after Nuke Talks

            On February 27, Iran's mission to the United Nations issued the following statement on the Almaty talks.

In the name of God,
 
            In Moscow, the Islamic Republic of Iran presented a comprehensive proposal for the talks. The proposal included five pillars for cooperation and set principals and objectives for the talks. They [world’s six major powers] were supposed to consider and review the plan and provide [a] response to Iran.
 
            Yesterday the other side, in response to Iran, offered some suggestions that include some of the items proposed by Iran in Moscow. Some of the points raised in their response were more realistic compared to what they said in the past, and they tried to bring proximity in some points between the viewpoints of Iran and their own, which we believe is positive, despite the fact that we have a long way to reach to the optimum point.
 
            The P5+1 suggested tangible steps for the next six months in order to build confidence, and some suggestions were offered in this regard. The Islamic Republic of Iran stressed the steps [need] to be balanced and simultaneous and that [the] suggestions should not neglect Iran’s rights. Therefore it was agreed to convene the expert meeting in Istanbul on March 18, which would be followed by the 5+1 meeting with Iran on April 5 and 6 in Almaty.
 
            We consider these talks a positive step which could be completed by taking a positive and constructive approach and taking reciprocal steps. 
 
 

Iran Talks: Is New Momentum Enough?

Patrick Clawson

Diplomats from Iran and the world’s six major powers met in Almaty, Kazakhstan on February 26. What did the talks produce?  
 
            The talks between Iran and the world’s six major powers — the United States, Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia, also known as P5+1 — produced an agreement to meet twice again soon.  Iran agreed to technical talks on March 18 — before the major Nowruz holiday starts on March 19 — and to a full diplomatic session on April 5, just after the end of the extended holiday on April 2. 
 
            The outcome does signify new momentum on process, if not substance. The first three rounds, beginning in Istanbul in April 2012 — were largely unproductive. And Iran had set the bar so low for the Almaty talks that even its modest reaction is interpreted as a positive sign.
 
            In fact, however, Western negotiators pointed out that Iran did not formally respond to the specific offer by the P5+1. Iran simply pocketed the proposal without commenting on it.  
 
Did the deal offered Iran differ from the June 2012 proposal made in Moscow? How?

Catherine Ashton & Dr Saeed Jalili      Compared with previous offers, the expanded proposal evidently requires less of Iran — and offers Iran more.

      First, the major powers asked Iran to temporarily suspend uranium enrichment at the underground Fordo facility outside Qom. They had earlier demanded that Iran shut down the controversial facility.
 
      Second, Iran would then be allowed to keep some uranium enriched to 20 percent, if it has not been converted into a form that could be used for reactor fuel. The P5+1 had earlier demanded that Iran ship all such enriched uranium out of the country.  In return, the world’s major powers offered to ease some restrictions on Iranian financial transactions. 
 
            The full proposal has not yet been released — and the devil will be in the details. The precise wording of the changes could have particularly important implications for easing Iranian financial transactions.
 
            The bottom line of the fourth talks is that the P5+1 compromised principles it originally outlined as absolute requirements for a deal.  The deal also sets aside — or at least modifies —concerns by some P5+1 governments that early relaxation of sanctions could reduce pressure on Iran to agree to a final deal.
 
What was Iran’s initial response to the proposals? What does it indicate about prospects for a diplomatic resolution?
 
            Iran’s chief negotiator Saeed Jalili was unusually positive about the P5+1 proposals, describing them as "more realistic," "closer to the Iranian position," and "a turning point." Before the meeting, Iranian officials had insisted that the meeting was primarily for the P5+1 to make a substantially different offer to Iran, which created minimal expectations for the talks — and even laid the basis for rejecting a new proposal. 
 
What happens next? 
 
            The optimistic view is that the long months and years of Iranian stalling may be over — and that Iran is willing to have serious negotiations about reaching a deal. The P5+1 have also shown flexibility, which may give Iran hope that the international community will bend further to get a deal with Tehran. Now, the hard bargaining begins in frequent sessions on specifics. 
 
            The pessimistic view is that Iran now has serious incentives to stall even longer, since the P5+1 have begun to bend. Iran’s has recently accelerated installation of new centrifuges, which will enhance Iran’s enrichment capability — at a time its stockpiles of enriched uranium are already troubling. As a result, the time Tehran needs to “break out” to produce highly enriched uranium is diminishing. Iran may have good reason to believe that time is on its side. The Islamic Republic may even be willing to agree to frequent talks to forestall more vigorous international action.
 
            Iran’s actions in the coming days will be interesting to monitor. In the past, leading politicians — most notably Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei — have taken hard-line positions that have severely limited the ability of Iranian negotiators to compromise.
 


Patrick Clawson is Director for Research at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Photo Credit: AFP photo of Catherine Ashton and Saeed Jalili by Stanislav Filippov via Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 and European External Action Service

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Iran TV Interviews Ben Affleck about Argo

Garrett Nada      

            Iran’s official media dismissed the film “Argo” as “an advertisement for the CIA” and its Oscar win as politically motivated. “The film is against Iran” and “lacks artistic value,” Iranian Culture and Islamic Guidance Minister Mohammad Hosseini said on February 25, 2013. In news coverage of the Oscars, Fars News Agency also called the film “anti-Iranian.”
            Yet Iran’s leading satellite television station had actually interviewed Ben Affleck and John Goodman at a red carpet event shortly after their film was released in late 2012.
            Press TV asked Affleck if he understood the context of the 1979 U.S. Embassy takeover—and the longer history of Iranian suspicion of U.S. intentions. Affleck noted that the beginning of “Argo” acknowledged the 1953 CIA operation that restored the monarchy and the “tyranny and oppression” of Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi’s rule, he told Press TV’s Faiza Ahmed in November 2012.
            Ahmed asked Affleck if he thought “Argo” could be seen as anti-Iran propaganda. “Absolutely not,” he responded. “I really designed this movie to be completely neutral, to not be politicized…I simply wanted to factually tell a story, and if that engenders a genuine and honest conversation, well that’s a good thing.” Press TV’s exchange with Ben Affleck and John Goodman begins about 10 minutes into the following 20-minute Press TV program about cinema. 

 

 

Garrett Nada is a Program Assistant at USIP in the Center for Conflict Management.

 

Khamenei Comments: U.S.-Iran Talks Won’t Solve Any Problems

            In two major speeches in February, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei focused on the nuclear program, Iran-U.S. relations and domestic infighting.

            In a speech on February 7, Khamenei rejected U.S. overtures for direct talks on the nuclear issue. He also criticized the United States for enforcing new sanctions, saying Iran cannot negotiate “under pressures and threats.” Khamenei also referenced recent public disputes between President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani. Government officials should stop this “improper conduct” and “join hands against the enemy,” he warned.
 
            The Supreme Leader claimed Iran has no intention to build nuclear weapons in another speech on February 16. But he warned that if Tehran decided to build them, the United States could not stop it. Khamenei called Washington hypocritical on nuclear proliferation, human rights and democracy promotion.
 
            But the Supreme Leader suggested that the two sides could negotiate if the United States acts and speaks “reasonably” on the nuclear issue. He stipulated that Iran will not relinquish its right to enrich uranium and produce nuclear energy.
 
            Khamenei also issued a second warning to Iranian politicians to focus on the “common enemy”and solving economic republics instead of arguing with each other. The following are excerpts from the Supreme Leader’s speeches.
 
Nuclear Program and Diplomacy
 
            "If Iran had decided to build nuclear weapons, America would not have been able to stop the Iranian nation in any way..."
            "The Islamic Republic of Iran has not decided to build nuclear weapons and this decision is not because of America's concern. Rather, this decision is based on the belief that building nuclear weapons is a crime against humanity. Besides stressing that they should not be produced, it demands that the existing nuclear weapons be wiped out…"
            "On the nuclear issue of Iran, the argument is not about nuclear weapons. Rather, they want to deny Iran its natural and absolute right to enrich uranium and use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. Of course, they will not succeed in preventing the Iranian nation and our nation will fulfill its objective which is based on its absolute right…" February 16 in a speech to the people of Tabriz
 
Iran-U.S. Relations
 
            "The Americans expect the others to give in to their unreasonable demands and their bullying, as a number of people have given in to their demands. But the Iranian nation and the Islamic Republic do not give in because they have the ability to reason, and they have power and authority…"
            "The Americans claim to support democracy while they support countries in the region which do not know the first thing about democracy, and in which the people have not seen ballot boxes even once..."
            "If the Americans show, in words and actions, that they are not irrational, then they will see that the Islamic Republic and the people of Iran are well-wishing, reasonable and cooperative..." February 16 in a speech to the people of Tabriz
 
            “I am not a diplomat. I am a revolutionary. I speak openly and honestly. A diplomat says something, but he actually means something else. We speak openly and honestly. We speak clearly and decisively. Negotiations are meaningful when the two sides show their good intentions. [Negotiations are not meaningful] when one side does not show his good intentions. You yourselves refer to this as pressures and negotiations. These two things are not compatible. You want to point the gun at the people of Iran and say, negotiate or we will shoot… Negotiations with America will not solve any problems…” 
            “During a certain period after the Revolution, the officials of the country trusted them. But the politicians of the American government labeled Iran as "axis of evil". It is you who are the embodiment of evil. It is you who are doing evil deeds in the world. You wage wars, loot nations and support the Zionist regime. On the issue of Islamic Awakening, you suppress the nations who have risen in revolt as much as you can and you weaken them and pit them against one another... February 7 in a speech to Air Force commanders and personnel
 
Domestic Politics and Infighting
 
            "Unfortunately, in this event the head of a certain branch made an accusation against the other two branches - that is to say, the Parliament and the judiciary branch - on the basis of an unproven allegation which had not even been considered by the court. This course of action was bad, wrong and inappropriate. It was against Sharia and the law and it was an immoral act..."
"The things which the honorable Speaker of the Parliament said in his own defense were excessive. It was not necessary to do that… Neither that accusation, that behavior nor that questioning was appropriate..." February 16 in a speech to the people of Tabriz
 
            “This improper conduct which is witnessed in certain areas from certain government officials - they should end this. By Allah's favor, I will address this issue in the future and I will speak to the people. Our nation is unified, determined and active. Even if there are differences of opinion between the people over different issues, all the officials and all the people join hands against the enemy, global arrogance and those who have prepared themselves to destroy the roots of the people and the Islamic Republic…” February 7 in a speech to Air Force commanders and personnel
 
Sanctions and the Economy
 
            "The aim of the sanctions is, as they [Americans] have repeatedly said, to exhaust the Iranian nation and to make it separate from the Islamic Republic. Therefore, even if negotiations are conducted but our people stay present on the scene and stand up for their rights, sanctions will continue…"
            "The people, particularly the underprivileged classes, truly feel the hardships. But they do not separate themselves from the Islamic Republic because they know that the Islamic Republic and the dear Islam are the powerful hands which can solve the problems." February 16 in a speech to the people of Tabriz
 
Achievements on the 34th Anniversary of the Islamic Revolution
 
            “Compare the Iranian nation, today, with nations who have been under the domination of American power. See where you are and where they are. With their movement, independence, self-confidence and reliance on God, the Iranian people proved that one can and should stand up against the domination of foreigners and those who seek domination…” February 7 in a speech to Air Force commanders and personnel
 
             “The Iranian people “safeguard their great achievement and this great wealth - which is the source of their dignity and independence - with courage, wisdom and awareness of the requirements of their time. They show their presence exactly where they should. As you saw, yesterday the people in Tehran and all the cities throughout the country entered this arena with all their heart and soul. This is a very astonishing phenomenon. This is a very significant event… The fact that after the passage of 34 years since the first anniversary of the Revolution, the people are present on the scene in such a way is very important. Men, women, the old, the young, people from different places and from different social backgrounds show their presence. This is really the greatest divine blessing.” February 11 in a speech to clerics and students

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