United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

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.


Iran Expects New Offer at Upcoming Talks

            Iranian officials expect the world’s six powers to make a new offer at the fourth round of nuclear talks scheduled for February 26. Iran will negotiate with Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States—the so-called P5+1— in Almaty, Kazakhstan. “We will just be listening,”  negotiating team member Mostafa Dolatyar told Iranian news media on February 11. Tehran will offer ways to allay concerns on its controversial nuclear program if Western countries recognize its nuclear rights, said Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast on February 19. Other officials have warned that applying additional sanctions could undermine the diplomatic track.
            Iran and the P5+1 were unable to negotiate a settlement in three meetings in 2012. The first was in April in Istanbul, followed by another round of talks in Baghdad in May. The last meeting was held in Moscow in June 2012.

            British Foreign Secretary William Hague announced that the P5+1 will present an “updated and credible offer” in
 Kazakhstan. But the “onus is on Iran to respond seriously and turn its declared willingness to negotiate into concrete action,” he warned on February 6. The following are remarks by key Iranian officials on the upcoming negotiations. 

U.N. Ambassador Mohammad Khazaee
            “That dual track approach currently pursued by a number of countries is a futile exercise in the sense that exerting pressure on Iran will definitely derail the efforts on the diplomatic track. So any negotiations to be successful must be conducted in a cooperative, constructive and positive spirit…"
            “Iran is serious about those talks and expects the other side to be serious and forthcoming so that that the next round of negotiations… would lead to positive and fruitful results.” Feb. 13, 2013 in a letter to the U.N. Security Council 
Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast
            “We will offer ways for removing possible concerns and ambiguities to show our goodwill, if Western countries, especially the United States, fully recognize the nuclear rights of countries, which shows their goodwill…”
             “Adopting a rational approach will help resolve the issue and resorting to threat and pressure will never bear fruit… If our rights are accepted and recognized, then all possible consequences would be eliminated.” Feb. 19, 2013 in a weekly press briefing
Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi
            “We are counting on there being positive and constructive steps made to resolve this problem at the upcoming meeting…”
            “Iran announced last year that it has drafted a five-point plan according to the proposals presented by Russia’s Foreign Minister [Sergei Lavrov] in 2011… Last month, however, the EU drafted and announced a separate three-stage plan… Now the negotiating parties will try to find common ground between the two plans.” Feb. 11, 2013 in an interview with Ria Novosti in Russia
Negotiating team member Mostafa Dolatyar
            “The P5+1 knows well that it should have a new proposal and word for Iran. In Almaty, we will be just listening… We have already expressed our views and we will respond to them based on what they are going to present to us.” Feb. 11, 2013 to Iranian news media
Secretary of the Expediency Council Mohsen Rezai
            “The United States is leading the sanctions against Iran and has stonewalled the negotiations with the P5+1 and then states that it wants to negotiate [with Iran].” Feb. 13, 2013 to Iranian news media


U.N. Report: Iran Upgrading Nuclear Capabilities

            Iran has begun installing new centrifuges for enriching uranium at the Natanz nuclear facility, according to a new report by the U.N. nuclear watchdog. Tehran had informed the United Nations in January 2013 that it would install the advanced models, which can enrich uranium two or three times faster than the old centrifuges. The installation of the centrifuges would be "a further escalation and a continuing violation" of Iran's international obligations," said State Department Spokesperson Victoria Nuland on February 21.
            Iran has not granted U.N. inspectors adequate access to all of its facilities. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was unable to conclude "that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities.” The report also urged Iran to grant access to the Parchin site. The agency received information indicating that Iran may have conducted experiments related to nuclear weapons development at that location. The following is a summary from the new report, followed by a link to the full text and remarks from the State Department.

62. While the Agency continues to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material at the nuclear facilities and LOFs[location outside of facility] declared by Iran under its Safeguards Agreement, as Iran is not providing  the necessary cooperation, including by not implementing its Additional Protocol, the Agency is unable to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran, and therefore to conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities.
63. Iran has started the installation of more advanced centrifuges (IR-2m) at FEP [Natanz] for the first time.
64. Contrary to the Board resolutions of November 2011 and September 2012 and despite the intensified dialogue between the Agency and Iran since January 2012 in  nine rounds of talks, it has not been possible to agree on the structured approach. The Director General is unable to report any progress on the clarification of outstanding issues, including those relating to possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear programme.
65. It is a matter of concern that the extensive and significant activities which have taken place since February 2012 at the location within the Parchin site to which the Agency has repeatedly requested access will have seriously undermined the Agency’s ability to undertake effective verification. The Agency reiterates its request that Iran, without further delay, provide both access to that location and substantive answers to the Agency’s detailed questions regarding the Parchin site and the foreign expert.
66.Given the nature and extent of credible information available, the Agency continues to consider it essential for Iran to engage with the Agency without further delay on the substance of the Agency’s concerns. In the absence of such engagement, the Agency will not be able to resolve concerns about issues regarding the Iranian nuclear programme, including those which need to be clarified to exclude the existence of possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear programme.
67. The Director General continues to urge Iran to take steps towards the full implementation of its Safeguards Agreement and its other obligations and to engage with the Agency to achieve concrete  results on all outstanding substantive issues, as required in the binding resolutions of the Board of  Governors and the mandatory Security Council resolutions.
Click here for the full report.
Remarks by State Department Spokesperson Victoria Nuland
            We’ve seen these reports that Iran has announced its intention to install advanced centrifuges in the production unit at Natanz. Frankly, this does not come as a surprise to us, given the IAEA reports on Iran’s development of advanced centrifuges. But the fact remains that the installation of new advanced centrifuges would be a further escalation and a continuing violation of Iran’s obligations under the relevant UN Security Council resolutions and IAEA board resolutions. So it would mark yet another provocative step.
            But there is another path here. There is the diplomatic path, and as you know, we have P-5+1 talks with the Iranians next week. They have an opportunity to come to those talks ready to be serious, ready to allay the international community’s concerns, and we hope they take that opportunity...
            We're obviously concerned that Iran continues to flout its international obligations and has refused to halt its enrichment activities and, in fact, is taking steps to expand its capacity. It already has enough uranium to fuel the Tehran research reactor for at least a decade, and its recent actions would allow it to increase its stockpiles well beyond the civilian needs. So this will obviously be a subject that we have to talk about in Almaty, because it’s very hard for the international community to understand what Iran is doing when it claims that all of this is peaceful.

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