United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

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.

Summary
 
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.
 

Nukes, Negotiations and “Argo”

John Limbert

What is the lesson of “Argo” when it comes to dealing with Iran?
 
            The historical thriller has swept the awards season. “Argo” probably has a better chance of winning an Oscar on February 24 than the negoti­ators have of breaking their long deadlock. The film’s real lesson is that the events of 1979 still have the power to affect events today. The hostage crisis casts its shadow over Iran’s relations with the United States and other nations.
 
            Attitudes shaped by those events have led both sides to expect rapprochement efforts to fail— including the upcoming negotiations between the six world powers and Iran scheduled for February 26.  Both Iran and the United States must deal with their past grievances to move on.
 
How does the 1979 hostage ordeal shape Iran and U.S. attitudes today?
 
      “Argo” highlights the negative attitudes that the two countries have held toward each other for the past three decades. Its brief introduction attempted to provide historical context behind the embassy takeover. But the film did not convey the prevailing Iranian sense of grievance—real or imagined—that led to the attack, and to the emotional response in the streets of Tehran.
 
      Jimmy Carter’s administration was oblivious to the depths of resentment and fury in revolutionary Iran, and to the suspicion that would greet the October 1979 decision to admit the shah to the United States for medical treatment. Many Americans still do not understand that resentment, which many Iranians still hold. The film may have reinforced stereotypes of Iranians as violent, fanatical and deceitful.  
 
            The Iranian government has also been oblivious to the effect of issuing commemorative stamps and holding annual rallies to mark the embassy takeover. These actions have reinforced the perception that Iranians are irrational or that they will not negotiate in good faith with the United States. Mohammad Khatami’s presidency from 1997 to 2005 was a notable exception, as turnouts for rallies were significantly lower at that time.
 
            The current presidents of both countries have noted the importance of perceptions and attitudes. In a 2009 interview with Al Arabiya, President Obama said that negative “preconceptions” hamper peace efforts in the Middle East. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad decried the “negative mentality” (zehniyat-e manfi) between Iran and the United States in comments to American academics in October 2012.
 
What has been the Iranian response to “Argo”?
 
            “Argo” has ripped a scab off an old wound and reminded many Iranians of an ugly chapter in their history. The film has forced Iranians to confront the events of 1979. Until now, many Iranians, including Ahmadinejad, had treated the events surrounding the embassy takeover as ancient history. In September 2010, I asked Ahmadinejad about the hostage crisis. “You were treated well, weren’t you?” he said. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei expressed the same attitude in April 1980, while I was a hostage with 51 other Americans. He visited the hostages and told the press that they were “very happy and even thanked their captors for treating them so well.”
           
            The film has exacerbated a deep divide among Iranians. Private showings of “Argo” have reportedly revived the debate on the wisdom or folly of the embassy takeover, and how the government allowed the student sit-in to become a major international crisis.
           
            Critics of the embassy takeover claim it sent Iran careening down a course of war, brutality, extremism, repression, and international isolation. They argue that it unleashed a torrent of hysteria that destroyed any chance that the revolution would lead to something better for most Iranians. The takeover is a source of shame for some. But others seem proud of the students who stormed the embassy.
 
            Some Iranians have criticized “Argo” for its portrayal of post-revolution Iran.  “We Iranians look stupid, backward, and simple-minded in this movie,” a self-described film specialist told The New York Times at a conference in Tehran in February. Participants of the third annual “Hollywoodism” conference claim there is a hidden agenda behind American films like “Argo.”
 
How might the outcome of the upcoming negotiations be based on past fears and lack of trust?
 
            Iranian distrust of the United States could be an obstacle to multilateral negotiations. “There are many reasons for this distrust,” said Supreme Leader Khamenei in a February 2013 speech. He claimed that Iranian officials have been harmed whenever they trusted the United States during the past 60 years. Secretary of the Expediency Council Mohsen Rezai claimed the United States has “stonewalled” negotiations with the P5+1 in remarks to Fars News Agency in February.
           
            The next round of negotiations is unlikely to produce a breakthrough in this atmosphere of suspicion, mistrust, and festering wounds. Negotiators from Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States—the so-called P5+1—are scheduled to discuss the nuclear issue with their Iranian counterparts in Kazakhstan on February 26.
 
            Iran and the United States need to leave their old resentments and suspicions behind to move forward. On the nuclear issue, both sides have painted themselves into rhetorical corners. Officials frame the conversation in terms of one side’s rights and the other’s obligations. There is little room for progress as long as the two sides confine their discussions to this difficult issue.
 
            Neither side can afford to make concessions that the other could accept. The United States cannot backtrack on sanctions and Iran cannot suspend uranium enrichment. Simply put, the Iranians want what the Americans cannot give them.  
 
John Limbert was appointed Distinguished Professor of International Affairs at the U.S. Naval Academy in 2006 after 33 years of service with the State Department. The ambassador briefly returned to the State Department and served as deputy assistant secretary for Iran from November 2009 through July 2010. In 1979, he was posted at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and was captured along with 51 other Americans. They were held hostage for 444 days.
 
Photo Credit: The New York Times
 
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Report: Iran Nuke May Not Trigger Arms Race

            Saudi Arabia would probably not rush to acquire a nuclear weapon if Iran builds one, according to a new report by the Center for a New American Security. It is widely assumed that Riyadh would rush to develop its own bomb or acquire weapons from Pakistan. But the report argues that “risks of the worst-case Saudi proliferation scenarios are lower than many contend.” By pursuing nuclear weapons, Saudi Arabia would risk becoming a target of international sanctions and rupturing its strategic ties with the United States. Riyadh is more likely to bolster its conventional defenses and rely on the United States for its defense. The following are excerpts from the report, followed by a link to the full text at the end.

            Conventional wisdom holds that the emergence of a nuclear-armed Iran would spark an inevitable proliferation cascade across the Middle East, with Saudi Arabia the prime candidate to follow Iran into the nuclear club. It is widely believed that the Kingdom would be hell-bent on getting nuclear weapons; if Saudi Arabia proved unable to build the bomb itself, it would acquire nuclear weapons or a nuclear umbrella from Pakistan.
 
            On all these counts, the conventional wisdom is probably wrong. Throughout the nuclear age, nuclear restraint has been the norm not the exception, and the Kingdom is not likely to buck this historical pattern. The Saudis would be highly motivated to acquire some form of nuclear deterrent to counter an Iranian bomb, but significant disincentives would weigh against a mad rush by Riyadh to develop nuclear weapons. In any case, they lack the technological and bureaucratic wherewithal to do so any time in the foreseeable future. Nor is Saudi Arabia likely to illicitly acquire operational nuclear weapons from Pakistan. Despite rumors of a clandestine nuclear deal, there are profound disincentives for Riyadh to acquire a bomb from Islamabad – and considerable, though typically ignored, reasons for Pakistan to avoid an illicit transfer. Instead, Saudi Arabia would likely pursue a more aggressive version of its current conventional defense and civilian nuclear hedging strategy while seeking out an external nuclear security guarantee from either Pakistan or the United States. And ultimately, a potential U.S. nuclear guarantee would likely prove more feasible and attractive to the Saudis than a Pakistani alternative.
 
            Although this is the most likely outcome, it is neither inevitable nor a reason to be complacent about the regional consequences of a nuclear-armed Iran. The risks of the worst-case Saudi proliferation scenarios are lower than many contend, but they are not zero. Even a small risk of a poly-nuclear Middle East should be avoided. Moreover, the most likely means of preventing a future Saudi bomb involve external nuclear guarantees that are themselves costly and undesirable in many respects. For these reasons, Washington should continue to prioritize preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, even while taking steps to mitigate the worst outcomes
if prevention fails.
 
Click here for the full text. 
 

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