United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

Foreign Minister’s Facebook Essay on Chemical Weapons

      On August 30, Iran's new foreign minister Mohammed Javad Zarif posted an essay on his personal Facebook page strongly condemning the use of chemical weapons in Syria. But he also challenged the international response -- and hypocrisy -- in light of the world's lack of action in the 1980s when Iraq's Saddam Hussein repeatedly used chemical weapons against Iran.

Greetings to all friends,
The recent abhorrent developments in Syria once again highlight the fundamental legal, political and moral question on the utility and effectiveness of the use or threat of force to advance humanitarian causes or even national policies. This has been a constant intellectual and practical concern for me over the past three decades. A few thoughts on the current issue and wider implications:
1- Any use of chemical weapons must be condemned, regardless of its victims or culprits. This is Iran's unambiguous position as a victim of chemical warfare. But has it always been the position of those who are now talking about punishing their presumed culprit? How did they react when civilians in Iran and Iraq were victims of independently established massive and systematic use of advanced chemical weapons by their then-friend Saddam Hussein? So, it is prudent to take their assertions at face value now, particularly since the circumstances and available evidence indicate the likelihood of the use of chemical agents by extremist groups.
2- Violence, repression, killing and extremism are repugnant crimes and every actor with influence in Syria must compel the parties to come to the negotiating table. But is a threat to use force the solution? Or does it represent the paradigm and the mentality that have helped to create this humanitarian tragedy and political catastrophe?
3- Are all options really on the table as the US president repeatedly declares? Is every nation with military might allowed to resort to war or constantly threaten to do so against one or another adversary? Isn't the inadmissibility of resort to force or threat of force a peremptory norm of international law? Is there any place for international law and the UN Charter at least in words if not deeds?
4- Can one violate a peremptory norm of international law in order to punish - taking the claim at face value - a violation of law or even a crime?
5- Why in fact has the UN Charter -- and other sources of international law dating back to the 1928 Paris Accord - have prohibited the use or threat of force? Is this a wishful idealism of a bunch of lawyers? Or is it in fact a legal reflection of a political reality? In other words, is war a useful instrument to advance foreign policy or humanitarian responsibilities in the 20th and 21st centuries? Or have war and the use of force been prohibited because they lost their practical utility?
6- Have those who maintain "all options on the table" noticed what these options have brought them and others in the past 100 years? Have they examined empirical evidence of the outcome of wars in the 20th and 21st century, all of which were initiated by those who were assured that their military might will lead to "shock and awe" and a quick victory? Have they not examined the fact that initiators of wars were totally annihilated or failed to achieve their objectives in 85% of the cases?
and ...
Let us hope that we can avert another catastrophic adventurism


Khamenei Google+ : On Iran’s Lazy Youth

            On August 29, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s office announced the launch of his English language Google Plus account. One of the first postings bemoaned the laziness of Iran’s youth and included a picture of Khamenei walking up a mountain road. Tehran has periodically blocked some Google services, including YouTube. But Google Plus remains one of the only Western social media sites accessible in Iran. Khamenei’s office opened his Farsi language Google Plus account in March 2012.



Rouhani Tweets: Women, Egypt, Econ & Sport

      During his first month in office, President Hassan Rouhani’s office tweeted extensively on women’s rights, job creation and foreign policy. He promised to take decisive action to fix the economy within 100 days. But Rouhani also warned, “I'm no miracle maker” in one tweet. “National unity, building bridges not walls, hard work, #dedication, #prudence and #hope however might lead to miracles,” he added. The following is a rundown of Rouhani’s tweets on key issues in August.

On Women
            Rouhani argued for increased women’s participation in society during the presidential campaign. In August, he went further by linking domestic security to women gaining equal opportunities. Rouhani also welcomed the appointment of the Foreign Ministry’s first female spokesperson, Marzieh Afkham.
On the Economy
            Rouhani pledged to take quick and decisive action on the economy within his first 100 days in office. One tweet indicated that his administration will share the results of new policies with the public. Rouhani previously claimed that job growth under Mahmud Ahmadinejad’s administration was exaggerated.
On Egypt
            Rouhani warned Egypt’s army to not “suppress” its own people, alluding to violent crackdowns on supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi.
On Foreign Policy
            Rouhani’s tweets emphasized Iran’s desire to improve its relations with other Middle Eastern countries. His account posted a picture of him with Oman’s Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said, the first foreign head of state to visit Tehran since Rouhani’s inauguration.
On Sports
            Rouhani’s account has kept close track of Iranian teams competing internationally. @HassanRouhani has posted more than a dozen messages congratulating men’s and women’s teams on their wins. The men’s basketball team was the most recent victor.
On Syria
            Rouhani’s tweets encouraged outside powers to help facilitate dialogue between the regime and the opposition instead of arming the rebels.

Khamenei Comments: On Foreign Policy

      In August, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei focused particularly on regional conflicts and foreign policy. He urged Egyptians to avoid a civil war—and prevent the kind of conflict that is destroying Syria. Khamenei blamed the bloodshed in Syria and Iraq on foreign powers. “U.S. intervention in Syria or any other country will turn into a disaster for the region,” he warned. Through his official social media accounts, Khamenei responded to allegations that Syria used chemical weapons. He condemned the use of weapons of mass destruction by the United States in Japan and Iraq against Iran. The following are excerpts from the supreme leader’s speeches, sermons and social media.

      “We are concerned about what is happening in Egypt. Considering the things that are being done in this country, the idea that a civil war may break out in Egypt is gaining strength on a daily basis and this is a disaster. It is necessary for the great people of Egypt and political, scientific and religious personalities in this country to take a look at the current situation and see what catastrophic consequences this situation may have. They should see the current situation in Syria. They should see the consequences of the presence of western and Zionist mercenaries and terrorists wherever they are active.”
            Aug. 9, 2013 sermon for Eid al Fitr
Weapons of Mass Destruction
            “With its large stores for collecting extremely dangerous weapons of mass destruction, the corrupt Zionist regime is a serious threat for the region…  The region needs public security and this goal will be achieved only if there is a genuine effort to prevent weapons of mass destruction from being built in the region.”
            Aug. 27, 2013 at a meeting with Omani Sultan Qaboos bin Said
Graphic posted on Khamenei’s official Facebook page
            “U.S. intervention in Syria or any other country will turn into a disaster for the region. The region has turned into a gunpowder stock. The United States’ intervention means nothing but warmongering and acts like a spark in a stockpile of gunpowder.”
            Aug. 27, 2013 in a meeting with President Hassan Rouhani’s cabinet
            “In Iraq, a democratic administration and government has come to power with the votes of the people. Because superpowers and the reactionary forces of the region are unhappy about this situation, they do not want to let the people of Iraq feel comfort. These explosions, these killings and these criminal and terrorist activities results from the assistance and financial, political and arms support of a number of regional and ultra-regional powers which do not want to let the Iraqi nation live its life the way it wants.”
             Aug. 9, 2013 sermon for Eid al Fitr
Regional Problems
            “If it was not for the intervention of foreigners, if it was not for the hostile policies of global powers, the events that are taking place in West Asia and North Africa today would definitely not be as complex as they are in the present time. Today, the cure for these problems lies in the fact that nations should make a decision on their own. Others should not intervene.”
            Aug. 9, 2013 speech to representatives from Muslim countries for Eid al Fitr
New Israeli-Palestinian Talks
            “We believe that the world of Islam should not back down on the issue of Palestine... It should not let these negotiations which are conducted with the so-called mediation of America lead to more oppression against the people of Palestine and to the isolation of Muslim Palestinian fighters. In fact, America is not a mediator.”
            Aug. 9, 2013 sermon for Eid al Fitr

U.N. Report: Iran Slowing Nuke Program

            Iran has made slow but steady progress on its nuclear program, according to a new quarterly report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The following analysis by the Institute for Science and International Security breaks down the positive and negative developments.

Positive Developments
• The stock of near 20 percent low enriched uranium (LEU) hexafluoride has increased by only a small amount to 185.8 kilograms.  This amount is below the amount assumed sufficient to produce, if further enriched, enough weapon-grade uranium for a nuclear weapon.

• Iran has made only 10 fuel assemblies for the Arak heavy water reactor so far, despite intending to have made 55 assemblies by now.  Not surprisingly, Iran announced that it will delay the commissioning of the reactor.  This is a positive development since the reactor would produce plutonium that, if separated, could be used in nuclear weapons. Furthermore, the loading of this reactor could trigger an Israeli strike; Israel has bombed two reactors, one in Iraq in 1981 and the other in Syria in 2007.  Negotiations should seek to indefinitely delay the start of the Arak reactor or to convert it to use light water and LEU fuel.

• Iran has not started enriching in any newly installed centrifuges for many months.  It could be producing much more enriched uranium in those newly installed centrifuges. Any negotiations should limit Iran’s enrichment activity to those currently enriching and prohibit enrichment in additional installed centrifuges.
Negative Developments
• Iran has installed over 1,000 IR-2m centrifuges at the Natanz Fuel Enrichment Plant (FEP).

• Iran has installed another 1,861 IR-1 centrifuges at the FEP, bringing the total to 15,416 IR-1 centrifuges installed at the FEP.  Iran is on track to achieve a “critical capability” as of mid-2014, or perhaps sooner.  Critical capability refers to Iran’s ability to produce enough weapon-grade uranium for a nuclear weapon before inspectors could detect the breakout.

• Iran continues to refuse to cooperate with the IAEA on the possible military dimensions of its past and possibly on-going nuclear programs, including refusing to permit an IAEA visit to Parchin.  Iran should allow the IAEA access to Parchin immediately, but more importantly, should address the IAEA’s concerns about its suspected past and possibly ongoing work on nuclear weaponization.

Connect With Us

Our Partners

Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars Logo