United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

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

Khazaee Welcomes U.S. Calls for Direct Talks

            On February 20, Ambassador Mohammad Khazaee welcomed recent U.S. calls for direct talks in remarks to the Asia Society. He claimed that the Obama administration has taken measures against Iran that could be considered “tantamount to war.” But negotiations are “not a red line for Iran, provided that the U.S. demonstrates in practice its commitment to dialogue on the basis of mutual respect,” the ambassador to the United Nations said.
            Khazaee also outlined steps the United States could take to prove its good faith, such as “discarding the two-track policy of pressure and engagement,” not intervening in Iran’s domestic affairs, and focusing on common interests. The following is an excerpt from Khazaee’s remarks, followed by link to a recording of the event.

            …Article 152 of the Iranian Constitution, upon which the foreign policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran is based, stipulates the establishment of peaceful relationship with all nations, based on "mutual respect" and "legal parity". Thus, diplomatic negotiations and dialogue with the United States does not constitute a red line for my country, although it is only a part of the complicated and multilayer relationship between Iran and the U.S.
            However, the question is as to why the establishment of relationship between our two countries on a just and equal footing has so far been elusive… I feel I need to very briefly review the major developments that have affected the relationship between our two countries, hoping that it helps us better grasp the reason for the current mistrust and, therefore, better prepare to break the impasse:
            First, in principle, diplomatic ties between nations should not be cut off under almost any circumstances. Despite grievances and bitter experiences, mostly emanating from the gross intervention in Iran's domestic affairs—which, inter alia, led to the coup in 1953 against the Iran’s democratically-elected government and unwavering support for the 25-year dictatorship that followed it—the Islamic Republic of Iran did not initiate severing ties with the United States. The diplomatic rupture occurred in April 1980 on the initiative taken by the then U.S. administration. Despite the so-called U.S. Operation Eagle Claw in the same month, which constituted a blatant act of aggression against Iran, Tehran agreed, as a sign of goodwill, to take part in the negotiations that led to the signing of the Algiers Accords. Whereas, the U.S. Government –which had committed itself, according to the same accords, to respecting Iran's rights and to abstain from intervening and interfering in Iran's domestic affairs—not only failed to honor its commitment but also increased its intervention and, at times, its hostility.
            Second, In the course of the two decades following the Algiers Accords, more bitter moves were made by successive U.S. administrations against the Iranian people. They included lending support to Saddam Hussein in his war against Iran, attacking two Iranian offshore oil platforms in the Persian Gulf in 1987, shooting down an Iranian passenger jet airliner, killing 290 people in 1988, trying to disrupt Iran’s ties with its neighbors, allocating budget to destabilize the Iranian government, and the list goes on and on.
            The confidence building measures that Iran adopted during the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the Afghan War in 2001, and the U.S. attack on Iraq in 2003, as well as the three rounds of talks between Iran and the United States on the U.S. status of forces in Iraq and Iran’s readiness for the fourth round, all, regrettably, met with disappointing answers by the United States—which included branding Iran as part of the so-called ‘axis of evil’, following Iran’s constructive approach on the Afghan front.
            Third, gaps between the U.S. declared positions and the actions against the Iranian nation have been widening in the past few years. Senator Barack Obama in an interview with the New York Times in 2007 envisioned forging a new relationship with Iran and stated that, if elected president, he would “engage in aggressive personal diplomacy” with Iran, by conducting talks at the highest level, offering economic inducements and a promise not to seek “regime change.” Nonetheless, the president-elect, in the first step, left unanswered the congratulatory message sent by the Iranian president.
            In his Nowruz [Persian New Year] message, in March 20, 2009, President Obama stated that: “My administration is now committed to diplomacy that addresses the full range of issues before us…” He stressed that, “instead of threats”, he would seek “engagement that is honest and grounded in mutual respect.” The same themes also appeared in the letters President Obama sent to Iran’s Supreme Leader. They represented a new approach that the Iranians welcomed and the letters were replied to.
            As the Supreme Leader stated in his speech in March 2009 in the city of Mashhad, I also could assert that, had the Islamic Republic of Iran observed the slightest sign indicating a practical change in the U.S. Government behavior, it would have certainly reciprocated in kind. Here, allow me to refer to a few actions by the U.S. government that went counter to its ostensibly friendly gestures:
            Beginning from November 2009, the U.S. Government took a number of aggressive measures against Iran, which include signing into law at least four major acts and issuing nine executive orders that you are all aware of, and I don't need to detail them. It is just worth mentioning that, in comparison, the whole number of executive orders had been issued against Iran by the previous U.S. presidents in the preceding 25 years had not gone beyond 18.
            The above are only part of the destructive measures against Iran. I don’t want to take more time by detailing such confrontational measures as cyber warfare against Iran’s nuclear sites, the terrorist attacks against Iranian nuclear scientists by the Israelis, and removing a known terrorist group responsible for the killing of more than 16,000 ordinary Iranians from the terrorist list. The moves that I referred to consist definitely of economic war against the Iranian people if not tantamount to declaring war against a sovereign state.
            In sum, when the U.S. proposes negotiations in Munich and few days later gives effect to new and harsher sanctions against the Iranian people in Washington, how could anybody expect the Iranians not to be doubtful and not to ask for proof of the U.S. seriousness and goodwill? Each of these actions alone could cast serious doubt on the goodwill of the U.S. government in establishing a just relationship with Iran in the minds of the Iranians, who consider themselves victims of the U.S. policies.
            Fourth, in principle, the logic of the two-track policy of diplomacy and pressure is incomprehensible, as it constitutes a conflict in term. Regrettably, for some in the U.S., pressure has become an end in itself. The dual track was not even dual, as it relied on one track, and that was pressure. They naïvely believe that pressure and diplomacy complement each other. Some even wrongly attribute Iran’s readiness to participate in the forthcoming negotiations in Kazakhstan to pressures. The wrong perception maintaining that the time is not on Iran’s side should be rectified as well. Because, the ambiguous positions of the West in parallel with more pressure can only beget more distrust, leading Iran, in turn, to lose hope in a negotiated settlement.
            Regrettably, the facts on the ground and the U.S. behaviors are indicative of their miscalculations and inaccurate information about the realities of today’s Iran; their assumption that Iran would succumb to pressure is chief among these miscalculations. The unprecedented rally to commemorate the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution two weeks ago, in which millions of people took part across the country, was an additional sign indicating the people’s lack of confidence in the U.S. on the one hand and the futility of the economic pressure on the other.
            Consequently, the approach of the Islamic Republic of Iran to negotiation is different. On the one hand, Iran’s sensitivity towards such negotiations emanates from its concern over the conditions leading to negotiations and the result thereof. It should not be interpreted as opposition to negotiation per se, as we have repeatedly stated our readiness for negotiations. Iran’s concern over the result of negotiations arises from the realities and U.S. behaviors, which hang a serious question mark over negotiations per se.
            The Iranians believe that the U.S. follows the strategy of “negotiation for more pressure” or “more pressure for negotiation.” In the sense that it is not only assumed that Iran could be pressured into negotiation, but also negotiation is turned into a means to bring more pressure to bear on Iran. In a clearer term, as long as the U.S. leaders chose to base their policy towards Iran on ‘my way or the highway’, they should rest assured that Iran would not compromise on its basic rights under pressure or threat.
            Meanwhile, I understand that there are people, who seek to conclude that Iran opposes any negotiation and conclude that alternative options should be taken up. I must emphasize that they are totally wrong. Iran has never and does not oppose negotiation in any way. If the right conditions are created and we are reasonably confident that negotiations could come to fruition; undoubtedly, we consider them seriously.
            Accordingly, I believe that certain ingredients of appropriate conditions for negotiations are as follows: a real change in the current U.S. perception of negotiations; respect for Iran’s national sovereignty; non-intervention in Iran’s domestic affairs; discarding the two-track policy of pressure and engagement; the existence of good faith and political will for mutual understanding; valuing bilateral cooperation in the region and focusing on extensive common interests of the two countries.
            Also, it is a fact that there are third parties who feel that they would lose in the case of any détente between Iran and the U.S. Thus, they spare no effort in impeding the way towards any diplomatic interaction between Iran and U.S.
            Ladies and gentlemen, in view of the recent calls for negotiations between Iran and the U.S., as the Iranian high-ranking officials, including the Foreign Minister pointed out, we welcome these calls and consider them a step in the right direction and along the path of creating a trustful environment for dialogue—dialogue with a country that occupies a very important strategic location in the region and has a mostly young population of close to 80 million, an educated and skilled workforce and massive oil and gas reserves, thus possessing a huge potential for cooperating with the outside world. It is safe to assert that Iran is one of the most impactful countries in the world that could help the international community in tackling such global and regional crises and critical situations as stability and security in Afghanistan, Iraq, the Persian Gulf, Syria and combating extremism, terrorism, trafficking in illicit drug, the spread of weapons of mass destruction and piracy.
            Such nation, shored up by a rich civilization, is able and ready to play a constructive role in the international community. Our history has taught us to cooperate rather than confront. Nonetheless, there are instances in our history where the Iranians demonstrated their combativeness and resilience in the face of outside aggressions. Therefore, I would like to reiterate once more that negotiation is not a red line for Iran, provided that the U.S. demonstrates in practice its commitment to dialogue on the basis of mutual respect. In that case, our counterparts should rest assured that the Iranian people understand respectful behavior and reciprocate in kind.
            Allow me to conclude by reading out a passage from the latest speech by His Eminence Ayatollah Khamenei, which summarizes his perspective about the way out from the current situation. He says and I quote:
            "We are reasonable, our officials are reasonable, our people are reasonable, we understand reasonable deeds and accept reasonable views. The American should show that they do not try to threaten. They should show that they do not speak and act unreasonably. They should show that they respect the rights of our people, avoid flaring up conflicts in the region and do not intervene and interfere in Iran's domestic affairs. In that case, they will see that the Iranian political establishment is well-intentioned and our people are reasonable. This is the way to engage the Islamic Republic of Iran. The Americans should prove their goodwill. If they do, then, they will see that the Iranian people will answer in an appropriate way."
Click here to watch the discussion.


Report: Unwinding the Sanctions Web

            Iran is more likely to adapt to tightened sanctions than to adjust its nuclear policy, according to a new report by the International Crisis Group. A key problem is that the West and Iran view sanctions differently. European and U.S. officials assume that economic hardships will eventually cause Iran to compromise on its nuclear program. But Tehran’s “resist and survive” mentality considers capitulation to be a dangerous option, according to the report.
The world’s six powers could offer Iran sanctions relief at talks in Kazakhstan on February 26. Yet sanctions are so extensive and intricately woven that it would be “hard to offer significant, concrete relief short of a major —and improbable—turnaround” in Tehran’s domestic and foreign policies. The report argues that a time-limited suspension or waiver would be unlikely to provide much relief, as international trading and consumption patterns have shifted away from Iran. The following are excerpts from the report’s executive summary, followed by a link to the full text at the end.

            With war a frightening prospect and fruitful negotiations a still-distant dream, sanctions have become the West’s instrument of choice vis-à-vis Iran. They are everywhere: in the financial arena, barring habitual commercial relations; in the oil sector, choking off Tehran’s principal source of currency; in the insurance sector, thwarting its ability to transport goods. Without doubt, they are crippling Iran’s economy. But are they succeeding? By at least one important criterion (the intensity of Western concern over nuclear progress), plainly they are not. Add to this myriad unintended consequences (bolstering the regime’s ability to allocate goods; harming ordinary citizens; pushing leaders persuaded the goal is regime change to escalate its own retaliatory steps; and constructing a web of punitive measures harder to unknot than to weave). Sanctions are not necessarily counterproductive. But, too easily they become a path of least resistance, a tool whose effectiveness is assessed by the harm inflicted, not how much closer it brings the goal…
            Not the product of a single policy, the sanctions regime has mutated over three decades, been imposed by a variety of actors and aimed at a wide range of objectives. The end result is an impressive set of unilateral and multilateral punitive steps targeting virtually every important sector of Iran’s economy, in principle tethered to multiple policy objectives (non-proliferation; anti-terrorism; human rights) yet, in the main, aimed at confronting the Islamic Republic with a straightforward choice: either comply with international demands on the nuclear file, or suffer the harsh economic consequences…
            Ultimately, sanctions as a tool of coercive diplomacy are only as effective as the prospect of relieving them in exchange for policy shifts is real; the measure of efficacy lies in what can be obtained when they are removed, not what happens when they are imposed. Therein lies another problem. For in the Iranian case, the situation at best is murky in this regard. Although long reluctant to acknowledge the impact of sanctions or project any eagerness to see them lifted, Iranian officials increasingly identify such a step as a condition for any accord. Yet that is far easier said than done. Sanctions have become so extensive and so intricately woven that it will be hard to offer significant, concrete relief short of a major – and improbable – turnaround in major aspects of the Islamic Republic’s domestic and foreign policies; reaching the threshold for removing U.S. sanctions in particular is hard to imagine. That leaves the option of a time-limited suspension or waiver, which in turn is likely to prompt at best time-limited and reversible Iranian reciprocal steps.
            Too, the impact of sanctions in many cases has acquired a life of its own, one that will outlast the measures themselves. This is because important trading and consumption patterns already have changed. Companies and countries that have shifted away from Iran – often at considerable expense – are unlikely to rush back, at least short of solid assurances that any decision to remove the penalties will be lasting rather than temporary.
            Finally, there is another, considerable risk: that by placing all one’s eggs in the sanctions basket, failure may appear to leave no other option but war...

Click here for the full report.


Report: Arabs Divided on Iran

            Arabs hold complex and sometimes conflicting views of Iran, according to a new report by the United States Institute of Peace and the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars. Attitudes toward Iran in countries with large Shiite populations such as Iraq, Lebanon and Bahrain tend to fall along sectarian lines. But Sunni Arab populations elsewhere have a more complicated view of the Islamic Republic.
            Polling has shown that individuals who feel threatened by Iran can simultaneously admire it. Arabs in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have consistently named Iran the third most threatening state after Israel and the United States in polls since 2009. Yet Tehran’s support for Hezbollah and Hamas has won it popularity in the Arab world, according to the report. Egyptian and Tunisian Sunnis have consistently expressed affinity with the Islamic nature of Iran’s government. But they are still concerned with Shiite influence.
            The report concludes that Iran will probably have ample opportunity to influence regional politics in the absence of a “stable, popular, and credible” Egypt that can lead the Arab world. The following are excerpts from the report, with a link to the full text at the end.

Varieties of Arab Government Attitudes Toward Iran
            Arab governments worried about Iranian influence after the Iranian Revolution in 1979, and oil-wealthy Arab states bankrolled Iraq’s war with the Islamic Republic for 8 years — even though most had no love for Saddam Hussein’s regime. They saw Iran’s influence expand after the 2003 war, given the decline of Iraq’s power and increasing Iranian influence in Iraq itself. Part of the Arab rulers’ concern pertains to Iranian influence with their restive Shi’a Arab communities, but it goes beyond that;  the United Arab Emirates claims three islands that Iran controls in the Gulf; Saudi Arabia is heavily invested in Hezbollah’s opponents in Lebanon; and all the Arab states in the region are American allies, with heavy and unpopular military presence in the region that the Islamic Republic of Iran uses against them.
            But it is noteworthy that Iran’s feared influence is only partly military and even more so
political. It is also worth noting the differences among Arab states on how to deal with Iran…
Arab Governments and the Nuclear Issue
            Whereas the Israeli fear of a nuclear Iran encompasses its consequences for Iran’s projection of conventional power and influence, it centers principally on a sense of  existential threat to Israel. Arabs, on the other hand, including GCC states, worry  principally about Iran’s conventional power and even more about its ability to influence  their public opinion through the projection of power. Certainly they do not  want to see a nuclear Iran, but driving this is an Arab public perception of Iranian power and achievement that in turn empowers segments of the public against the rulers. In the past  few weeks, for example, following announcements by Iran that it had successfully sent a monkey to space and had produced its own fighter aircraft, the Saudi media gave much coverage to de-bunking the claims through stories that argued that the returned monkey appeared different from the one sent and the photos of the supposed Iranian airplane were Photoshopped. The bottom line is that much of the worry is about Iranian influence, more so than about possible Iranian nuclear weapons as such…
            The complexity of these Arab attitudes means that, unless and until Egypt becomes a  stable, popular, and credible Arab power that captures Arab public imaginations, Iran will continue to have ample opportunity to influence politics in the region, with or without war and regardless of what happens in Syria—particularly in the absence of Israeli-Palestinian peace. For American policy toward Iran, including the prospects of war, the starting point is, of course, an analysis of direct American interests. What is clear is that even aside from the potential military and economic costs of war with Iran, war is unlikely to limit, and can possibly expand, Iranian opportunities for influence in the Arab world—regardless of its consequences for Iran’s nuclear program.

Click here for the full report.


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