United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

Iran Opposes U.N. Resolution on Syria

            On May 15, the U.N. General Assembly approved a non-binding resolution calling for a political transition in Syria. The Qatari-drafted measure passed with 107 countries voting in favor and 59 abstaining. Iran and 11 other countries voted against it, including China and Russia. The resolution condemned the government’s use of heavy weapons against civilians and urged serious dialogue with the opposition to produce a democratic and pluralistic political system. Iran’s U.N. ambassador, Mohammad Khazaee, called the measure a “deviation” from other international efforts to bring peace to Syria. He also criticized it for not condemning the alleged Israeli air strikes on Syrian territory. The following is the full text of Khazaee’s prepared statement to the general assembly and excerpts from the resolution.

            The current crisis in Syria is gaining new dimensions, following further intensification of sectarian violence as well as growth of extremism and illegal acts by terrorist and extremist groups in this country; we have witnessed a new rounds of air strikes by the Israeli regime violating the territorial integrity of Syria. There is a growing concern that the operations of armed groups and spillover of such acts into other areas in the region will pose further threat and danger to the regional security and stability. This brings more than ever into picture our responsibilities for supporting a Syrian-led political dialogue for a peaceful resolution of the crisis and ending the violence inside Syria. 
            In the view of my delegation, the draft resolution is a deviation of all the efforts that are currently pursued at the international level for a peaceful solution. The draft, in its terms and spirit is also a deviation of the principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations and the international law. We cannot and do not agree with this draft for the following reasons:

1. It is ironic that in the draft there is no reflection of recent Israeli regime attacks against Syria. The Israeli air strikes on 3rd and 5th May 2013 and other previous attacks were all blatant acts of aggression and a clear and serious violation of the norms and principles of the United Nations Charter including its Article 2 (4) on the prohibition of the use of force against any Member State. Nothing can justify the use of force and act of aggression against a sovereign state and the aggressor must be held accountable for any consequences stemming from these condemnable and illegitimate acts which endanger regional and international peace and security. I would like, here, to recall that the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) in a statement issued on 7 May 2013 strongly condemned Israel’s recent acts of aggression against Syria, calling it a “grave violation of the international law as it infringes upon Syrian sovereignty and constitutes a blatant violation of the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations.” We believe that such criminal and irresponsible act should be urgently and appropriately addressed by all relevant United Nations organs, including this august body.

2. We believe that the United Nations has an important role to play in search for a peaceful solution to the Syrian crisis. In view of my delegation, the Draft Resolution, demonstratesa rather confrontational approach vis-à-vis Syria and in no way helps to bring the parties to a platform of dialogue, with a view of finding a peaceful way to resolve the crisis in a manner that would benefit the Syrian people as a whole.We need to help and facilitate engagement of the Syrian political groups with Syrian Government for a Syrian-lead political process. 

3. Despite some changes,the main elements in the final draft still supports the decisions taken outside the United Nations and include frameworks and mechanisms that do not correspond to the peaceful initiatives that the UN shouldpursue under agreed processes, includingthe framework oftheGeneva Action Group for Syria and the regional framework that we pursue with some countries in the region aimed at achieving the prescribed peaceful goals.The Draft contains a language that contradicts a comprehensive political process with the support of regional and international initiatives and the mandate of the Special Envoy. This is also interpreted as being in line with certain attempts to alter or to impose illegitimate demands on the mandate of the Special Envoy. This would only undermine the Special Representative and other major international and regional efforts in seeking a complete cessation of the violence in Syria at the very first place. We sincerely hope that Mr. Ebrahimi would stay resolute in his arduous mission. 

4. The “acknowledgment” referred to in the draft intrudes on the provisions of the Charter regarding the respect for the sovereignty and integrity of Member States. It also represents a dangerous precedent that violates the most elementary principles of the international law. My delegation is not in a position to welcome or endorse the decisions where their letters and sprits go against the provisions of the Charter of the United Nations.The United Nations should remain an Organization of principles governed by rules of law and not influenced by decisions taken elsewhere. 

5. On the issue of the use of chemical weapons in Syria, the Islamic Republic of Iran as a main victim of the present-day use of chemical weapons, with a heartfelt sense, condemns the use of such weapons. It now becoming more clear that certain elements of the Syrian armed opposition groups used chemical weapons resulted in the death and the injury of a number of innocent civilians in that country as testified by the UN Human Rights Council appointee Mrs. Carla Del Ponte. 

6. The draft is not explicit in recognizing the responsibilities of the armed groups in their recourse to atrocious act and violence. We believe, it is important that the decisions by the UN General Assembly to be objective and balanced. 

7. The Draft violates the authorities and jurisdiction of the General Assembly where particularly it makes implicitly references to Rome procedures on the International Criminal Court. 

8. Finally, it is important that any proposal before this Assembly should be based on the broad consultations and consent of the wider membership. It seems that the drafters did not heed the substantive proposals and amendments presented by the representatives of others regional groupings.
Mr. President,
In conclusion I would like to point out that at this stage, what is important is to prevent any slowdown in the international efforts to resolve the conflict in Syria through peaceful means. The U.N. member states should, with the greatest sense of responsibility, work hand in hand to find balanced formula for the resolution of the conflict. After all, our organization is about and should remain dedicated in achieving diplomatic resolutions to political crisis including the prevailing situation in Syria.
U.N. General Assembly resolution on the situation in Syria
            Recalling further all resolutions of the League of Arab States relating to the situation in the Syrian Arab Republic, in particular resolution 7595 of 6 March 2013, in which the League reviewed the very serious situation in the Syrian Arab Republic due to the escalating violence and killings in most of the Syrian territory, and the continuation of grave violations of human rights by the Syrian authorities using heavy weapons, warplanes and Scud missiles to bomb neighbourhoods and populated areas, which has seriously increased the number of victims, caused human displacement inside the Syrian Arab Republic and an influx of thousands of Syrians to the neighbouring countries fleeing violence, which targets children and women who have been subjected to frightful massacres, threatening thus to lead to the collapse of the Syrian State, and endangers the security, peace and stability of the region…
            Stressing that rapid progress on a political transition represents the best opportunity to resolve the situation in the Syrian Arab Republic peacefully, reaffirming its support for the engagement of the Secretary-General, the Joint Special Representative of the United Nations and the League of Arab States and all diplomatic efforts aimed at reaching a political solution to the crisis, reaffirming also the role of regional and subregional organizations in the maintenance of international peace and security as set out in Chapter VIII of the Charter of the United Nations, and welcoming the relevant resolutions of the League of Arab States to address the situation in the Syrian Arab Republic...

Latest on the Race: Jalili, Ideologue on Twitter

Garrett Nada

            Saeed Jalili has never held elective office, yet he may have an important edge in the presidential race because of his close ties with Iran’s supreme leader. He is an insider’s insider. At the same time, Jalili is not a charismatic figure. He unsuccessfully ran for parliament in 2000 and 2004 to represent his hometown of Mashhad, according to his website. In a three-week presidential campaign, the challenge for Jalili may be winning sufficient public support in a field of better known candidates.
      Jalili has been secretary of the Supreme National Security Council since 2007. It is a powerful position, yet he has not had same visibility as his predecessors. His main strength has been his loyalty to the regime and commitment to the revolutionary narrative of Iranian independence from both East and West. His politics also fit well with the so-called principlist conservatives—or people who adhere to the revolution’s early ideals.
       Yet Jalili quickly went on a campaign offensive right after registering to run on May 11. He opened a Twitter feed, Google Plus account, blog and website—and in the first few days tweeted up to 50 campaign slogans in English, Arab and Farsi a day. He has had some uncharacteristically tough words for colleagues also running for the presidency. “Some politicians have certain view today, tomorrow they will present totally opposite views based on their own personal interests,” he tweeted on May 14.
What support does Jalili have among the general population?
          Jalili’s wartime credentials may be one of his two major assets. Born in 1965, he belongs to a generation defined by the 1980-1988 war with Iraq. His official biography says he served in the Basij paramilitary under the Revolutionary Guards, whose influence in politics and the economy has soared over the past decade. Veterans won at least 16 percent of parliament’s 290 seats in 2004. Jalili posted a picture of himself from the war on his campaign site. On May 13, he tweeted an article about a veteran’s association endorsing his campaign.
            Jalili has also served in highly visible government positions. He ran the supreme leader’s office from 2001 to 2005. In 2005, newly elected President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad appointed Jalili, a personal friend, to be deputy foreign minister for European and American affairs. In 2007, Ahmadinejad appointed him to be secretary of the Supreme National Security Council and chief nuclear negotiator.
            But Jalili has little experience working on domestic affairs, which may pose a problem since the economy is a key campaign issue.
How is Jalili perceived among Iran’s political elite?
      Jalili and Ahmadinejad’s friendship has reportedly suffered since the president began challenging the supreme leader’s authority after his 2009 reelection. Jalili is now widely considered to be closer to the supreme leader, which could be a key to his political future. Many candidates are running on anti-Ahmadinejad platforms.
      Among Iran watchers, Jalili is also considered an old-time ideologue at a time when more practical issues, such as the economic crisis and international isolation, dominate the political space. Jalili has promoted his religiosity in his campaign materials. His campaign posted a picture of Jalili praying in a mosque in Kazakhstan during the April 2013 nuclear negotiations with the United States and five other world powers.
            Conservative media have portrayed Jalili as a man with a common touch. One news agency posted a picture of the Jalili’s Kia Pride next to the high-end Mercedes of Hashemi Rafsanjani, another presidential candidate. His own website described him as “a diplomat who speaks little, but who is decisive and revolutionary.” His official biography has emphasized his “humility” and preference for “simple living.”
What positions has Jalili taken on the top campaign issues?
             On the economy, Jalili has claimed that international sanctions against Iran have actually spurred economic growth. His campaign website has highlighted his drive to combat public corruption, which several candidates have blamed for causing the economic crisis. He reportedly dismissed 17 envoys while working at the foreign ministry for corruption. Jalili has also called for further privatization. Iran’s large public sector is widely regarded as inefficient.
             On foreign policy, Jalili has echoed the supreme leader. He has described the Arab uprisings as part of “Islamic Awakening” modeled on Iran’s 1979 revolution—noting that the Iran model of an Islamic state can be reproduced everywhere. Jalili has also encouraged developing countries to pool their economic power to rival the superpowers. He tweeted the following slogan on May 14, 2013:
            Jalili has taken a hardline position on the United States and the West. The United States “violates its claims about democracy and free trade by meddling in the internal affairs of other countries,” he said on a January 2013 visit to India. But in a May 14 tweet, his campaign supported U.S.-Iran cooperation to keep the Olympic committee from cutting wrestling. The Iranian team was scheduled to visit the Los Angeles and New York for two friendly matches to raise the sport’s profile that week.
            Jalili has been a staunch defender of Iran’s nuclear energy program and right to enrich uranium. He has claimed that Tehran has no intention of building nuclear weapons. Jalili has also warned the international community against imposing further sanctions on Iran. He tweeted the following message on May 15, 2013.
What role has he played in negotiations between Iran and the outside world?
      Since 2007, Jalili has been Iran’s chief negotiator in talks on Iran’s controversial nuclear program with the international community. He led Iran’s delegations in talks with both the world’s six major powers – the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany—as well as with the International Atomic Energy Agency, which is the U.N. nuclear watchdog.
      Foreign diplomats describe Jalili as adamant in defending Iran’s right to enrich uranium and long-winded, often taking hours to outline Iran’s positions. In negotiations, he is generally viewed as a purveyor of Iran’s position and a functionary rather than a pivotal decision-maker with the latitude to negotiate compromise on the spot. But they may be assets that generate trust within the regime’s inner circle.
What is his background?
            Jalili was born in 1965 in the northeastern city of Mashhad. He attended Imam Sadiq University after serving on the front during the 1980-1988 war with Iraq. The elite Tehran institution has prepared many students for bureaucratic positions. Jalili did his graduate work on political thought in the Koran. He reportedly published a book on the Prophet Mohamed’s foreign policy while working for the foreign ministry. Jalili has also taught courses on political science at Sharif University and Imam Sadiq University, according to the biography on his campaign website. 


Click here for Jalili's positions on key issues


Garrett Nada is a Program Assistant at USIP in the Center for Conflict Management.
Online news media are welcome to republish original blog postings from this website in full, with a citation and link back to The Iran Primer website (www.iranprimer.com) as the original source. Any edits must be authorized by the author. Permission to reprint excerpts from The Iran Primer book should be directed to permissions@usip.org


Latest on the Race: Jalili on the Issues

      Chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili is a major conservative candidate for Iran’s presidency. The secretary of the Supreme National Security Council seems to share the supreme leader’s hardline outlook on all key issues. The following are excerpts from various interviews, public remarks and campaign materials.
Nuclear Energy Program
            “We are against the proliferation of nuclear weapons. The serious question today is which country has supplied Israel with nuclear arms. This is a serious question that needs to be addressed internationally.” February 4, 2013 at a press conference in Damascus
            “Uranium enrichment is one of these rights that every individual member state [of the Non-Proliferation Treaty] should benefit from and enjoy for peaceful purposes... Talks should be based on confidence-building measures, which would build the confidence of Iranians.” April 14, 2012 at a press conference in Istanbul after negotiations
            “The strategy of pressure is wrong and could not bring any results.” February 2013 in an interview with The Christian Science Monitor
            “The IAEA [U.N. nuclear watchdog] said they didn't find one document showing any diversion from our peaceful program. Some of the great powers know this and they have made clear that they didn't want confidence building - they just want to deprive Iran of its inalienable rights.” December 18, 2006 in an interview with the Boston Globe
            “We believe that the right to enrich is an inalienable right of the Iranian people ― whether we are talking about [to a level of] five percent or 20 percent.” April 6, 2013 according to AFP
            “Those who have focused on the issue of uranium enriched to 20 percent [purity] should be accountable today and answer why they refused to give it to us when we told them we did not want to produce it and asked them to sell it to us for peaceful purposes.” May 16, 2013 in an interview with the Financial Times
            “Those who feel they can pressure the Iranian people through sanctions, are playing in our field; because this act allows for an enhanced Islamic Republic… That which is coming to an end is pressure placed on the Iranian people, for without doubt, difficulties result in further resistance and growth.” May 17, 2012 at a conference on Iran’s economy
            “At least over the past few years when I have been carefully following the effects of sanctions, I see that they can be easily bypassed and turned into opportunities.” May 16, 2013 in an interview with the Financial Times
            “Increasing privatization should not be limited to state supervision and authority.” In undated comments on his campaign website
United States
            “To serve its interests, not only does the United States violate the rights of others, but also violates its claims about democracy and free trade by meddling in the internal affairs of other countries and the imposition of unilateral sanctions.” January 2, 2013 during an official visit to India
            “The Iranian nation’s behavior over the past 34 years shows that the U.S. cannot do whatever it wants. The U.S. seriously opposed Iran’s nuclear program when they thought they had no rival in the world. But then they said they were seeking international consensus, but that did not succeed, either... We have never waited to see what U.S. conditions for [direct] talks are. The problem is America’s behaviour. It has to change.”May 16, 2013 in an interview with the Financial Times
            “The United States uses terror as a means for achieving its evil goals… The Islamic revolution of 1978 emerged at a time when the United States had looted the nation’s assets and sought to dominate its minds.” November 4, 2011 at an event marking the anniversary of the U.S. Embassy takeover
            “Even after the end of the war [with Iraq], the Americans continued to work to prevent the growth and the development of that idea, in different fields and different settings… Everything depends on the behavior that American administrations are going to show. They themselves have come to realize that their policies have been wrong.” May 2013 in an interview with The Christian Science Monitor
Foreign Affairs
            “The Islamic Revolution model can be reproduced everywhere... If all the powers of the [global] south are connected to pool their power, a great power will be added to the superpowers.” In undated comments on his campaign website
            “How could Assad have lasted this long? Isn't it because he's leaning on popular support? We're not saying that no one is opposed to him. But at the end of the day the will of the people is with him.”August 2012 in an interview with Al Mayadeen television
            “Terrorists have never brought democracy to nations… The present dilemma in Syria is that outsiders have disguised their illegitimate demands as public demands, and are trying to abuse the ongoing crisis in a bid to implement their colonial and interventionist policies.” August 9, 2012 in a meeting with Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari in Baghdad
            “We’ve said from the outset of the Syrian crisis that the only thing that can help resolve the crisis is national dialogue in Syria… We’ve said that terrorism, violent behavior and killing innocent people cannot be steps toward defending the rights of the Syrian people.” February 4, 2013 at a press conference in Damascus
            “The [Israeli] attack exposes the aggressive nature of the regime and its threat to regional security and stability… Enemies claim to defend and support the Syrian nation on the one hand and continue to hatch plots against it on the other hand.” February 2, 2013 in a meeting with Syrian Prime Minister Wael al Halqi in Damascus
            “Once Kofi Annan asked me what is your idea on resolving the problem in Syria. I said: It is only one word: Democracy.” May 13, 2013 via Twitter
Women's Rights
            “Women’s core identity lies in motherhood and her role should be defined within that framework, not in an economic context... Making use of women as an object and lowering her greatness to the level of a workforce and economic tool is very different from how they are viewed in Islam. We are backers of women’s rights, especially in comparison to the West." May 29, 2013 at a campaign rally
Arab Uprisings
            “The Islamic Awakening has created a great opportunity, and it is only natural that the enemies of peace and stability in the region and the enemies of the Islamic Ummah [community] are not pleased with this situation.” August 6, 2012 in Beirut
            “The United States and Europe must be answerable to the Egyptian people for supporting a dictatorship for 30 years… The victory of the Egyptian Revolution coinciding with the victory of Iran's Islamic Revolution proved that 22 Bahman [February 11] is the day of triumph for regional nations and is the day of defeat for the United States and the Zionist regime.” Feb. 11, 2011 in an interview with Press TV
            “Fortunately, the Islamic thinkers' theory that says Islam is the sole political solution to save the Islamic Ummah has materialized…” July 2012 at a meeting with a Tunisian lawmaker in Tehran
Palestinian Issue
            “Palestine belongs to the entire world of Islam and should be liberated.” May 12, 2012 in a meeting with Hamas Foreign Minister Mohamed Awad in Tehran
           “Resistance for the liberation of Palestinian lands is the best axis for unity of Islamic nation and could be used as a preventive strategy in deterring the enemy’s divisive plots.” March 3, 2013 in a meeting with Hamas deputy chief Mousa Abu Marzouq in Tehran
Islam and Religion
            “Some say religion is only personal rituals, some say religion is for society. We say religion is for all.” May 13, 2013 via Twitter
            “Islamic thought has powerfully withstood against Western doctrines.” November 4, 2011 at an event marking the anniversary of the U.S. Embassy takeover
            Israel “will regret its attack on Syria, just like it regretted its war on Gaza and Lebanon… Iran will use its power in the [U.N.] Security Council to support Syria against Israel.” February 4, 2013 to the press in Damascus
            “The world community must steadfastly attend to the Zionist nuclear weapon issue… and must be determined to contain proliferation…” February 2013 according to The Young Journalists Club


Top US Officials on Sanctions Impact

            On May 15, two top officials in the Obama administration claimed U.S. sanctions are having a growing impact on the Iranian economy, the regime’s political calculations and Tehran’s foreign policy. The following are excerpts from the testimony of Under Secretary of the Treasury David S. Cohen and Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman before the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee.
Secretary of the Treasury David S. Cohen
            Since my last appearance before this Committee, the scope, intensity, and impact of U.S. sanctions on Iran have expanded through the enactment of legislation, the adoption of executive orders, and the energetic implementation and enforcement of the entire sanctions framework.  These efforts have heightened the economic pressure and imposed a very significant strain on the Iranian regime…
Petroleum Sector Impacts
            U.S. and EU sanctions on Iran’s petroleum sector have been particularly powerful… Iran’s crude oil and condensate exports have dropped by roughly 1.3 million barrels per day, or some 50%, between the enactment of the NDAA and early 2013.  The EU’s decision to ban the import of oil into Europe, effective in mid-2012, contributed in no small part to this fall.  These lost sales cost Iran between $3 billion and $5 billion a month.  Iran’s petrochemical exports have also been hit, decreasing by at least 7.6 percent in 2012 from the previous year… 
Economic Impacts
            As Iran finds it increasingly difficult to earn revenue from petroleum sales and to conduct international financial transactions, Iran’s economy has been severely weakened.  Iran’s own economic mismanagement has only exacerbated these effects… 
            Treasury assesses that in 2012 Iran’s GDP fell by some 5 to 8 percent – the largest drop since 1988, the final year of the Iran-Iraq war, and the first contraction in twenty years.  This decline has impacted the Government of Iran’s budget, causing it to run in 2012 its largest deficit in 14 years, which could amount to some 3 percent of GDP.  We believe Iran’s GDP will continue to shrink in 2013 in the face of reduced government and consumer spending and declining oil exports, as well as the ramping up of additional sanctions. Iran’s economic contraction is manifest in its recent budget bill, which projects almost 40 percent less oil revenue than did the previous year’s budget law.  To help make up the shortfall, Iran’s parliament is currently considering tax increases of some 38 percent.  And in March, Iran’s Supreme Audit Court released figures showing that for the first nine months of the Iranian year only 53 percent of projected budget revenues had been realized.  
            We have also begun to see the impact of the bilateral trade restriction...  This measure has limited Iran’s access to its foreign exchange reserves and impeded the Government of Iran’s ability to support the rial.  Supported by our extensive outreach efforts, this powerful provision is rendering Iran’s reserves increasingly inaccessible. 
            Iran’s currency also has been hit hard.  At the beginning of 2012, one U.S. dollar purchased 16,000 rials in the open market.  As of April 30 of this year, one dollar was worth about 36,000 rials.The open market value of the rial has lost over two-thirds of its value in the last two years.
            Faced with a rapidly depreciating rial, in September 2012 the Central Bank of Iran established a Currency Trading Center (CTC) to allocate foreign exchange for certain preferred imports at a preferential rate of about 24,000 rials to the dollar.  Apparently faced with dwindling supplies of hard currency, just a few weeks ago the Central Bank of Iran substantially limited the list of imported goods that qualified for the CTC’s preferential rate.  
            Inflation, partly due to the volatility and depreciation of the rial, is another telling metric.  As of April 20, 2013, the official Statistics Center of Iran twelve-month average inflation rate was approximately 30 percent, while the point-to-point inflation rate was nearly 39 percent.  Independent analysis suggests the actual inflation rate is significantly higher.  
            These figures become increasingly stark when we compare Iran to its neighbors or similarly situated countries.  Compared to groupings of countries in the Middle East and Africa, Iran’s stock of foreign capital, as measured by the Bank of International Settlements, is down 57 percent for the two-year period ending December 2012, representing a reduction in lending of some $9.5 billion.  This figure contrasts with a 13 percent increase in BIS banks’ lending exposure to all developing countries.   (See Chart 2, appended.)  This shortage of capital is at least one reason why Iran’s automobile sector is now encountering significant difficulties, manufacturing at some 50 percent of nominal capacity and facing substantially reduced exports.  
Claimed Impact on Humanitarian Trade
            There have been some reports of shortages of some medicines in Iran, and that some banks may be reluctant to process payments for the export of pharmaceuticals and other humanitarian goods to Iran.  At the same time, however, we have also been told by major pharmaceutical companies that they are able to deliver their products to Iran and receive payment.
            Regardless of this discrepancy, we take this issue very seriously.  President Obama has made clear that we have nothing but respect for the people of Iran.  The goal of our sanctions on Iran is to expose and impede the Iranian government’s continued pursuit of its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, and to help persuade the Iranian leadership that its only viable choice is to come into compliance with its international obligations.  
            That is why it has been the longstanding policy of the United States to allow the export to Iran of humanitarian items, such as food, medicine, and medical devices.  Our sanctions broadly authorize the sale and export to Iran of nearly all types of food and medicines, as well as basic medical supplies.  No special permission is required to sell these humanitarian goods to Iran. And foreign financial institutions can facilitate these permissible humanitarian transactions, as long as the transaction does not involve a U.S.-designated entity, such as a bank sanctioned for supporting Iran’s nuclear program. 
            To allay any concerns or misunderstandings, several months ago Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) published detailed guidance clarifying our long-standing policies regarding humanitarian assistance and related exports to the Iranian people… 
            Despite our efforts to isolate and pressure Iran, we know there is far more to do.  
            As Secretary Lew has said, “We will exhaust all diplomatic and economic means we can.”  What remains to be seen, he noted, is whether this will “change the mind of the regime so that it [is] ready to, in a diplomatic process, give up the pursuit of nuclear weapons.  That is the goal.” 
Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman
            Iran’s leaders want the world to think of their country as a legitimate power and a regional leader. Yet, the costly and destructive decisions the regime is making day after day undermine Iran as a credible player on the world stage.  What’s more, Iran’s policies—from its nuclear weapons ambitions, to its destabilizing regional activities, to its abysmal record on human rights—create a range of challenges to the United States and every country committed to peace and stability.
            The Obama Administration takes every single one of these challenges seriously.  We know that our success depends on effective collaboration here in Washington and with our allies and partners around the world.  We’re pursuing a number of avenues to deal with Iran: resolutions and other actions at the United Nations, the Human Rights Council, the IAEA, and other multilateral organizations… wide ranging sanctions… ensuring we have the appropriate force posture…leveraging bilateral relationships to raise a red flag when Iran seeks to open up a new Embassy … and engaging the Iranian people through virtual diplomacy.  Every day, every bureau in the State Department has their eye on Iran. We’re making clear that Iran’s international legitimacy and the end to their isolation depends on the choice Iran’s leaders are facing right now: change course, or continue to pay the cost of intransigence…
            We’ve put in place a dual-track policy of ratcheting up pressure in the form of sanctions and other measures while pursuing a diplomatic solution.
            The sanctions have hit the Iranian economy hard.  Iran’s crude exports have plummeted, costing Iran 3-5 billion dollars per month; the rial has depreciated more than 50% over the past 12 months; and official inflation is at 32.2 percent, although informal estimates are significantly higher. Even with the sanctions in place, we’re making sure that humanitarian trade continues so that the Iranian people aren’t facing terrible hardship.
            At the same time, we and our P5+1 partners are pushing for a diplomatic solution…
            We are clear eyed in our approach to the P5+1 talks and seek concrete results. After all, while the window for negotiation is still open, it will not remain so forever.  We will give diplomacy every chance to succeed.  But ultimately, the onus is on Iran.
            Beyond Iran’s nuclear ambitions, we’re also concerned about the destabilizing influence Iran is casting across the entire Middle East and beyond.  Support to the Asad regime—their closest ally—is sustaining the campaign of violence against the Syrian people.  Their aid to terrorist organizations is threatening our ally Israel and innocent civilians worldwide. 
            That’s why we’re deepening our military partnerships across the region, particularly with Israel and the Gulf, to defend against attacks from the very groups supported by Iran’s leaders…
            And of course, we are deeply concerned about the campaign of repression Iran’s rulers are waging against their own people.  Abuse of those who speak out against their government, and harassment of their families.  Students, lawyers, journalists, and bloggers facing endless intimidation, discrimination, and incarceration.  Desperate and vital voices—whether in a town square or on a Twitter feed—stifled and punished.
            Over nearly five thousand years, Persian civilization has given the world innovations in culture, art, medicine, and government.  But today, that historic greatness has been set back.  The limitless potential of Iran’s people has been stifled.  As President Obama said in his Norwuz message, all nations would benefit from the talents and creativity of the Iranian people, especially its youth.  Every day that Iran is isolated from the international community is a day we’re not working together, building together, sharing history and learning about one another. Today, the U.S. and Iranian national wrestling teams are facing off at Madison Square Garden in the sort of people-to-people exchange that can be important to building relationships with other countries and cultures.  But sadly, this show of healthy competition and good sportsmanship is an exception…
            We are closely watching the upcoming election.  Four years ago, the Iranian people spoke out for human rights, basic dignity, and greater opportunity.  The regime responded by shooting demonstrators in the streets and frightening families in their homes…

            We take no sides in the election, but we know that the desires and aspirations of the Iranian people must start with free, fair, and transparent elections...


Latest on the Race: Heir Apparent Esfandiar Mashaei

Kourosh Rahimkhani

      Although never elected to office, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei has become a major political figure as chief of staff to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He is also one of Iran’s most controversial politicians. Ahmadinejad appointed him vice-president in 2009, but the political backlash and opposition from Iran’s supreme leader forced him to resign within days.
      In May 2013, Mashaei was one of more than 500 candidates who registered to run for the presidency. He is widely viewed as Ahmadinejad’s political heir—and an attempt to keep the faction in power. The two men are also related by marriage. In 2008, Mashaei’s daughter married Ahmadinejad’s oldest son. Kourosh Rahamkhani profiles Mashaei.
Does Mashaei have a base of support among the general population?
            Mashaei shares several characteristics with a new generation of political elites. Most were born in villages and small towns. They were young during the 1979 revolution. They have not emerged from the traditional conservative establishment. Many have backgrounds in the Revolutionary Guards or security forces, fostering a “military-security” political class. Finally, few have so far held elected office. But it is difficult to assess how much appeal Mashaei has among the general population. Some of the president’s allies are concerned that Mashaei’s rhetoric has the potential to become popular.

How is Mashaei perceived among Iran’s political elite?
            Mashaei’s statements have provoked the clerical establishment in the holy city of Qom as well as traditional conservatives in the regime. In 2007, Mashaei—then the vice president and head of the Cultural Heritage Organization—angered top clerics and politicians by attending an event in Turkey where women performed a traditional dance. In 2008, he hosted a ceremony in which some women played tambourines and others carried Korans. “It is people who do not understand music who say it is haram [forbidden by Islamic law],” he said.
            He has also sparked controversies over statements about everything from Biblical history to foreign affairs. If the Prophet Noah “had had good managerial skills, other prophets would not have appeared after him,” he reportedly said. He also pronounced, “Without Iran, Islam would be lost.” On current events, he once said, “Iranians are friends of Israelis.”
            His daring comments and actions have pushed the envelope of the Islamic Republic’s officially sanctioned values. Many clerics consider his remarks on religious affairs to be encroaching on their territory and dismissing them as uninformed or even heretical.
            Even fervent supporters of Ahmadinejad have criticized Mashaei. Hardline cleric Ayatollah Mohammad-Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi branded Mashaei’s statements “erroneous and inappropriate.” In 2009, the supreme leader’s representative on the hardline newspaper Keyhan accused Mashaei of being an agent of the “velvet revolution.” General Hassan Firouzabadi, head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, denounced Mashaei’s remarks as a “deviation” that undermined national security and against the principles of the Islamic Republic.
What is his background?
            Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei was born in 1960 in a northern Iranian village. He participated in his town’s revolutionary rallies as an 18-year-old and studied electrical engineering at Isfahan University after the revolution. In 1981, Mashaei joined the Revolutionary Guards intelligence unit after the Mujahedeen-e Khalq instigated an armed campaign against the Iranian government during the Iran-Iraq War. He was later dispatched to Kurdistan, where Kurdish militants were battling forces loyal to the newly formed Islamic Republic. Mashaei championed a cultural-propaganda campaign, rather than a purely coercive counterinsurgency, to deal with the Kurds.
            In 1984, Mashaei joined the Intelligence Ministry in Kurdistan, where he met Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, then governor of the northwestern city of Khoy. The two men developed a close friendship that has endured almost three decades.
            In 1986, Mashaei was appointed director of an Intelligence Ministry department that dealt with ethnic issues in sensitive regions. He left Kurdistan to help formulate a national strategy. In 1993, he became head of the Interior Ministry’s Social Affairs Department under President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.  After the 1997 victory of reformist President Mohammad Khatami, Mashaei left the Interior Ministry and worked for state radio, which is under the direct control of the supreme leader.
            In 2003, Mashaei joined the staff of Tehran’s new mayor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, after he was selected by the conservative municipal council. He headed the city’s cultural-artistic affairs organization. Among his controversial initiatives, Mashaei proposed building a major thoroughfare to prepare for the arrival of the twelfth Shiite Imam—the Mahdi or “Hidden Imam”—who disappeared in the ninth century. The Mahdi will return as a messiah as the world comes to an end, according to Shiite eschatology.
            After Ahmadinejad was elected president in 2005, Mashaei became a major player in his cabinet, serving as the president’s chief of staff. They also now have family ties. In 2008, Mashaei’s daughter married Ahmadinejad’s oldest son.
What role has Mashaei played in Iranian politics?
            Under Ahmadinejad’s patronage, Mashaei has gained more influence in the cabinet, and many see him as the president’s second-in-command. But since 2005, he has also emerged as one of the most controversial figures in the Iranian government. He has been at the center of internal battles between Ahmadinejad’s circle and conservatives known as principlists, who feel the president is veering from the revolution’s early principles.
            Mashaei has held other key positions on both domestic and foreign affairs. Besides chief of staff, he has been the president’s adviser for Middle Eastern affairs; vice president of the High Council of Iranian Affairs Abroad; and the secretary of the administration’s cultural committee.
            Mashaei is often blamed for formulating apocalyptic and religious-nationalistic themes prominent in Ahmadinejad’s rhetoric. Ahmadinejad has urged Iranians to actively pave the way for the coming of the Mahdi. The two themes have been widely viewed as an attempt to build a new constituency among the young and the poor. Ahmadinejad’s messianic interpretation differs from popular Shiite mythology and diminishes the role of Shiite clerics.
            As clerics are falling out of favor in Iranian politics, Ahmadinejad’s opponents are concerned that his rhetoric of “principlists minus the clergy” will become more popular and enhance hardliners around the president.
President Ahmadinejad appointed Mashaei vice president in 2009, but he lasted only one week. What happened, and why the controversy?
            President Ahmadinejad appointed Mashaei as his first vice president on July 17, 2009 after the disputed June presidential election. The appointment angered many top clerics and other allies of Ahmadinejad. The appointment reportedly increased tensions within the administration. At one cabinet meeting, four ministers clashed with the president over Mashaei’s appointment. On July 24, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei overruled Ahamdinejad’s appointment and Mashaei was forced to resign.
            The Iranian constitution states that the first vice president has the duty to lead cabinet meetings in the absence of the president. He also succeeds the president—with approval of the supreme leader—if the president dies or becomes incapable of performing his duties. Ahmadinejad’s critics suggested that the president was manipulating the post-election turmoil to insert his right-hand man into the center of power. In the end, however, Mashaei’s opponents had enough leverage to block his appointment. Ahmadinejad instead appointed Mashaei his chief of staff.
What is Mashaei’s relationship with Ahmadinejad, and why is the president so supportive of him?
            Mashaei has been viewed as a man surrounded by controversy, and his relationship with President Ahmadinejad has been an enigma to the president’s conservative allies. Ahmadinejad once said he had “a thousand reasons” to support Mashaei and that there was “no convincing” reason for the attacks on him. “One of the virtues and glories God has bestowed on me in life was to become acquainted with this great, honest, and pious man,” Adhmadinejad said.

What positions has Mashaei taken on Iran’s most critical domestic and foreign policy issues, such as negotiations over the nuclear program?
            Mashaei generally echoes the president’s views on Iran’s nuclear program. There is no sign of disagreement between them. But both men have distanced themselves from core fundamentalist policies in Iran, including the hejab (Islamic dress) and police crackdowns on styles of dress considered un-Islamic.

Kourosh Rahimkhani is an independent scholar specializing in Iranian affairs. He worked as a journalist for a number of reformist newspapers in Iran before moving to the United States.
Online news media are welcome to republish original blog postings from this website in full, with a citation and link back to The Iran Primer website (www.iranprimer.com) as the original source. Any edits must be authorized by the author. Permission to reprint excerpts from The Iran Primer book should be directed to permissions@usip.org

Connect With Us

Our Partners

Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars Logo