United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

Iran: The Week in Review

Hanif Zarrabi-Kashani
            The Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars offers the latest news on Iran, based on a selection of Iranian news sources. It is a weekly summary of up-to-date information with links to news in both English and Farsi.

  • July 5: Outgoing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced an increase in maternity leave for Iranian mothers. The law was approved late last year by the Guardian Council and finally approved in June of this year. An amendment to previous family planning and population control legislation now gives mothers nine months of maternity leave, while their spouses are allowed two weeks of leave to be with their families. The new amendment also assists Iranian mothers who have already given birth to children in the past year. According to the new change, mothers of children who have not yet reached the age of nine months will be allowed to take maternity leave up until the child reaches nine months of age.  
  • July 5: In a meeting with other reformists figures, former president Mohammed Khatami said, “We should not overlook the non-partisan discourse, role, and the approach the Supreme Leader took in the recent presidential election victory of Hassan Rouhani.” Khatami spoke about his own potential candidacy in the presidential election by saying, “Had I run (for president) and was disqualified, I would have accepted the decision.” As a conciliatory gesture, Khatmai also mentioned, “We accept Mr. Rouhani’s political positions and dialogue, but if a conservative (candidate) held these same positions we would have supported him as well.”  
  • July 6: Outspoken MP Ali Motahari said he believes that it is no longer necessary to continue incarcerating political prisoners who were arrested and jailed following the 2009 presidential election protests. “I have stated this a few times before, arrest without due process or a fair trial should not occur. If Mr. (Mir Hussein) Mousavi and Mr. (Mehdi) Karroubi were tried, they would have defended themselves and said what they had to say, and the facts would have been clear to the people. Instead they were punished without trial and their rights as citizens as well as the rule of law were rejected.” Motahari further explained that security concerns regarding their release are currently baseless as national reconciliation has already begun with the victory of Hassan Rouhani in the presidential election. 
  • July 6: Prominent political analyst and University of Tehran political science professor Sadegh Zibakalam said, “I have no doubt that if Ayatollah Rafsanjani returned to the podium at Friday Prayers more than one million people would attend prayers in Tehran. Even congregants who have stopped attending prayers over the past few years will once again return.” Zibakalam believes that public interest is growing daily about Rafsanjani and his take on domestic matters and that Rafsanjani cannot be destroyed as one of the pillars of the political system.
  • July 7: Mehr News posted photos of a symposium honoring outgoing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad held at the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting International Conference Center.
  • July 7: Iran’s Chief of Police Ismail Ahmadi-Moghadam met with president-elect Hassan Rouhani today as Rouhani emphasized civil rights as they discussed the rights of citizens, privacy, and security issues as well as police authority during their meeting. Afterward the police chief said, “With the valuable experiences and broad personal perspectives that Dr. Rouhani has, we are optimistic that with the help of the Eleventh Government we will be able to better serve the people through a broader outlook and provide the people with peace of mind.”
  • July 8: In an interview with ILNA, prominent political analyst and University of Tehran political science professor Sadegh Zibakalam said, “The main characteristics of an inclusive democratic political group are loyalty and freedom, and it seems in Iran there is no such party currently in the political arena…I personally believe that someone like (former reformist presidential candidate) Mohammed Aref, as well as other democracy seekers, can successfully form such a group.”  With regard to cabinet appointments for president-elect Hassan Rouhani, Zibakalam said, “It would be best that the extremist minority not create problems in (cabinet) procedures for the people and the country since it is they, the majority, who have voted Rouhani into power.” 
  • July 8: While speaking at the University of Tehran, former presidential candidate Mohammed Aref said that the government of Mr. Rouhani should prioritize the academic demands and needs of students. “Unfortunately over the past few years the university environment was governed as a closed environment and the students’ optimistic moods turned into detachment,” he said.
  • July 9: Outgoing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad used his personal website to “strongly deny” that he was seeking the position of Head of the Iranian Soccer Federation. An official statement from the president’s public relations department read, “Certain news websites published a claim that was apparently made by a former official of Iran’s soccer federation, and these so-called revelations are completely false and baseless.” The memo went on to ask that Iranian media should uphold Islamic morality and piety and that the publication of false news damages the prestige and credibility of the media.     
  • July 9: ISNA posted photos of Vice President Mohammad Reza-Rahimi as he attended a large commencement ceremony in Kerman celebrating the completion of over one million housing units that have been built in villages across Iran.
  • July 9: Mehr News also published a series of photos of a parade that traveled through the main thoroughfares of Tehran marking the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan.  
  • July 9: Ahmed Nategh Nouri, the brother of Ali Akbar Nategh Nouri, the former Speaker of Parliament, current member of Iran’s Expediency Council, and advisor to the Supreme Leader, said, “In the run-up to the presidential election, Mr. Rafsanjani, Mr. Khatami, and Mr. Nouri (his brother) all helped Mr. Rouhani win the presidency, and currently they are all advising him.” He further stated that his brother’s role in the Rouhani government is “strictly an advisory role so that Rouhani will be able to form a nonpartisan cabinet.”
  • July 10: Former reformist MP and current member of the Central Council of the Islamic Labor Party, Soheila Jelodarzadeh said, “The (governmental) programs that are being presented by president-elect Hassan Rouhani are pretty much reformist programs, so what else could we (reformists) possibly want? We couldn’t even fathom such an idea in our sleep!” She continued, “Every Rouhani administration program and goal that I read about are the same programs that reformists want. It would make no difference if these ideas and goals were offered by Mr. (Mohammed) Qalibaf or Mr. (Saeed) Jalili. The fact of the matter is, the programs of the Rouhani administration are the same programs that reformists have been wishing for.”
  • July 10: Fars News published a series of photos of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sharing an Iftar banquet (the breaking of the daily fast) with orphan children. ILNA posted photos of Hashemi Rafsanjani visiting the home of the Javad Sepehri family and paying his respects to the four martyrs of the family who were killed during the Iran-Iraq war.
  • July 10: Addressing a group of students at the University of Tehran, former presidential candidate Mohammed Aref spoke about the 14th anniversary of the 1999 July student uprising (18th of Tir incident) and said, “Students have always been at the forefront of the revolution.” He emphasized, “If the student dormitory incident was dealt with in a wise manner, with peace and justice, there would have never been the sensationalized rhetoric of the students confronting the sovereignty of the Islamic Republic of Iran… The 18th of Tir incident was very painful and sent the academic community into mourning.” He continued, “Rehabilitating, strengthening, and supporting student movements in our universities is very important. The university atmosphere has changed, the new environment should allow students to be more active, but we shouldn’t have expectations that are too high. It’s better to be realistic and patient while the newly elected government ties to improve the country.”

    Click here for a pdf version.

Iran Expanding Naval Power

      Iran is expanding its maritime territorial claims while strengthening naval ties with China and Russia, according to a new Institute for the Study of War report. Tehran reduced the size, scope and duration of local naval exercises during the past year. But it also increased long-range deployments, reinforcing Iranian claims to the Tunb Islands in the Strait of Hormuz and territorial waters in the Caspian Sea. Iran has also supported Russian ships on long deployments and dispatched ships to the Pacific in coordination with China. The following is an excerpt from the executive summary, with a link to the full text at the end.

            Iran’s maritime forces, the Islamic Republic of Iran Navy (IRIN) and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Navy (IRGCN), as well as its commercial shipping fleet, the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL), are being used in specific, definable ways to further Iran’s strategic objectives. In the recent past, Iran has decreased the size, scope, and geographic reach of several of its maritime exercises. Considered in isolation, a reduction in maritime exercises might appear to be evidence that Iran’s maritime capability is in decline, or that it does not have adequate resources to execute maritime operations in support of its strategic objectives.
            A holistic view of the evidence, however, reveals that at the same time Iran has reduced the size, scope and reach of its local maritime exercises, it has also taken three distinct actions that reflect its broad, strategic ambitions. First, Iran has reprioritized some of its local maritime exercises towards solidifying or expanding territorial claims in the Persian Gulf, Strait of Hormuz, and Caspian Sea. Second, IRIN has significantly increased its long-range deployments in support of strategic relationships with key partners. Third, at the same time that IRISL is being used to support Iranian objectives logistically, IRIN may also be conducting similar operations. Taken as a whole, these three trends indicate Iran is modifying and expanding its maritime activities in support of strategic objectives.
            Iran has physical control over the Persian Gulf islands of Abu Musa, Greater Tunb, and Lesser Tunb. These islands are strategically located just outside the Strait of Hormuz, in the Persian Gulf. Although the United Arab Emirates (UAE) claims legal ownership of the islands, the physical possession of the islands is not in dispute — Iran has military garrisons and commercial ventures in place on each of these islands. By conducting short range exercises that highlight control over the disputed islands, Iran hopes to solidify its legal claim to the islands, as well as highlight its military capability to potential enemies. Iranian claims to the disputed islands also factor into legal claims that it should control access to the Strait of Hormuz.
            In a similar vein, Iran has used the IRIN to increase its territorial claims in the Caspian Sea. Iran has a standing, internationally recognized claim to 12% of the Caspian Sea; Iran claims that it is actually due 20% of the Caspian Sea. In 2012, Iran launched the destroyer Jamaran-2 in the Caspian Sea, and also conducted a maritime minelaying and minesweeping exercise. This ship and the exercises are clearly designed to increase Iranian territorial claims to the mineral-rich Caspian Sea and the lucrative caviar fisheries there.
Iran has an existing relationship with China that extends far behind the commercial aspect of China importing Iranian oil. China has exported significant military equipment to Iran, and provided key enabling technologies to the Iranian military industrial complex. IRIN deployments to China serve to solidify that existing relationship and expand it. By conducting long-range deployments to the Pacific, IRIN validates that it is a capable, reliable partner that China can trust.
            Iran and Russia are partners in supporting the Assad regime in Syria, and they have common interests in the Caspian Sea and Caucasus region. At the same time IRIN is conducting long range deployments to the Pacific and solidifying Iran’s relationship with China, IRIN is increasing support to Russian Navy ships on long deployments. IRIN has made its base at Bandar Abbas available to the Russian Navy as a friendly and secure port where Russian Navy ships can refuel, resupply, and make repairs. This practice makes Russian Navy deployments from their Pacific Fleet homeport of Vladivostok to the Russian Navy Base at Tartus, Syria far more sustainable.
            Sudan and Iran partner in the conveyance of Iranian military equipment bound for Iranian proxies or customers in the Mediterranean. The majority of weapons transfer from Iran to the Mediterranean takes place via smugglers, who use small, privately owned dhows to convey weapons and ammunition from Iran to the Sudan coast on the Red Sea, and from there via overland transfer to the Mediterranean. IRIN has been conducting recurrent port calls to Port Sudan that serve to strengthen the relationship between Iran and Sudan. These port calls may also be used to transfer weapons, ammunition, and other supplies directly from Iran to Sudan and vice versa.

Click here for the full text.

Photo credit: Khamenei.ir via Facebook

Iran: Record High Foreign Investment

            Foreign direct investment in Iran surpassed $4.8 billion in 2012, a record high for the Islamic Republic according to a new U.N. report. Global foreign direct investment fell 18 percent to $1.35 trillion in 2012 while investment in Iran actually grew 17 percent. Iran was the second largest recipient of foreign investment in South Asia in 2012. About 76 percent of foreign investment went to Iran’s oil sector — despite international sanctions.
            “We are among the six countries that have had a constant increase in attracting foreign investors. It shows that Iran has a good economic capacity to attract foreign companies and the domestic private sector,” Deputy Minister of Economy Behrouz Alishiri said on June 30. State media reported that Iran attracted some $24.4 billion in foreign investment during President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s tenure (2005 - 2013), more than under previous presidents. Tehran attracted $10.452 billion under Mohammad Khatami (1997 – 2005) and $350 million under Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani (1989 – 1997), according to government statistics.
            The following are excerpts from the 2013 World Investment Report by the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development.



Iran Willing to Accept Syrian Peace Talks?

Jubin Goodarzi
      Iran may be searching for an exit strategy in Syria. Tehran initially supported President Bashar Assad’s crackdown on the rebels since Syria is a frontline against the West and Israel. But Iran’s position on the conflict has evolved since fighting erupted in mid-2011. Tehran actually now has several incentives to support Syrian peace negotiations. Talks could prevent the spillover of violence into Iraq and Lebanon, both countries where Shiites have a strong political presence. Tehran might also be able to press for a national unity government that is not be hostile to Iran, while building up regional goodwill. The following is a rundown of the numbers game on Iran’s involvement in Syria since the crisis erupted in March 2011.

Iran’s Position on Syria has evolved through five phases:
  • Spring 2011 – Tehran issued steadfast support for President Bashar Assad.
  • Summer 2011 – Iran showed the first public signs of doubts, including negotiations with the Syrian opposition.
  • Fall 2011 to Winter 2012 – The conflict emerged as a proxy way. Iran demonstrated stalwart support for the Assad regime.
  • Spring/Summer 2012 – Tehran publically supported multilateral negotiations mediated by the United Nations and Arab League
  • Fall 2012 to present – Iran continued backing for Damascus while exploring other options and exit strategies.
Tehran has provided Damascus seven types of aid:
• Crowd control equipment and technical aid
• Guidance and assistance on monitoring the Internet and mobile telephone network
• Financial resources
• Arms and ammunition (via Iraq)
• Oil shipments (via sea)
• Provide personnel and specialist units
• Training for the National Defense Army
Iran has six incentives to support a negotiated settlement:

• Contain damage and cut losses because the pre-March 2011 status quo cannot be restored in Syria
• Prevent the dissolution of Syria and spillover of conflict into Lebanon and Iraq
• Demonstrate Iran’s importance as a key regional actor
• Avoid further polarization and total transformation of conflict into a regional sectarian war between Sunnis and Shiites
• Facilitate the emergence of a national unity government in Damascus that is not hostile to Iran
• Free up resources to solve Iran’s own domestic issues and deal with foreign sanctions

Click here for a summary of the event by the Woodrow Wilson Center Middle East Program.

Jubin Goodarzi, a professor of International Relations at Webster University Geneva, Switzerland, is author of, "Syria and Iran: Diplomatic Alliance and Power Politics in the Middle East." 


Gallup: Half of Iran Lacks Funds for Basics

             Iranian residents' election of moderate cleric Hassan Rouhani to the presidency has been widely interpreted as evidence of their desire for meaningful change in the country. Rouhani will preside over an increasingly distressed population: Half of Iranians say there have been times in the past year when they have had trouble paying for adequate shelter and for food their families needed. In each case, the 50% figure is the highest among 19 populations in the Middle East and North Africa region that Gallup surveyed in 2012 and 2013.


            Gallup trends also reveal that Iranians' emotional wellbeing has deteriorated over the past two years. Currently, more than half say they felt a lot of worry (58%), sadness (54%), and anger (54%) during much of the day prior to the interview. All these figures have risen substantially since 2011 and are now among the highest in the region.

            The rising prevalence of anger in Iran may be particularly troubling to U.S. leaders. Almost half of Iranians (46%) say they hold the U.S. responsible for the international sanctions on their country, while 13% blame their own government. These opinions raise the question of the extent to which increasing hardship may be bolstering anti-U.S. sentiment in a country that, despite its economic troubles, has been an increasingly assertive power in the region. Currently, 15% of Iranians say they approve of U.S. leadership; though this represents a slight improvement from 9% in 2011, it remains one of the lowest figures in the Middle East and North Africa region.
This report by Steve Crabtree was released on July 1,2013 by Gallup World. Click here for the original posting.

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