United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

Obama on Rouhani Victory

      On June 17, President Barack Obama said that the United States is open to engaging with Iran through bilateral channels. But Tehran must recognize that sanctions will not be lifted absent “significant steps” show that Iran is not developing nuclear weapons, he stipulated. On Iran’s election, Obama acknowledged that President-elect Hassan Rouhani has indicated interest in better relations, but he also noted that the supreme leader is likely to make the ultimate decisions. The following is an excerpt from Obama’s PBS interview with Charlie Rose.

CHARLIE ROSE:  Seventy-five percent of the people voted. The moderate won. What does this say and what are the opportunities there? 
BARACK OBAMA:  Well, I think it says that the Iranian people want to move in a different direction and, you know, if you contrast this with the violence and suppression that happened in the last presidential election, obviously you have a much more positive atmosphere this time.
The Iranian people rebuffed the hard liners and the clerics in the election who were counseling no compromise on anything, anytime, anywhere. 
Clearly you have a hunger within Iran to engage with the international community in a more positive way.  Now Mr. Rouhani, who won the election, I think indicated his interests in shifting how Iran approaches many of these international questions. 
But I think we understand that under their system the Supreme Leader will be making a lot of decisions.  And so we’re going to have to continue to see how this develops and how this evolves over the next several weeks, months, years.  I do think that there’s a possibility that they decide -- the Iranians decide -- to take us up on our offer to engage in a more serious, substantive way. 
And you know, our bottom lines have been show the international community that you’re abiding by international treaties and obligations, that you’re not developing a nuclear weapon.  Based on that there are a whole range of measures that can be taken to try to normalize the relationship between Iran and the world but we don’t know yet if they’re going to be willing to take up that offer.  They have not been during my entire first term when we
showed ourselves open to these discussions. 
CHARLIE ROSE:  You’re prepared to have someone in your administration talk to them immediately or does it have to be conditioned on other things as you’ve suggested? 
BARACK OBAMA:  No, I think that my general view is we are open to discussions both through the P5-plus-1 and through potential bilateral channels and we recognize that you’re not going to solve problems all up front as a precondition for talks but there has to be a serious recognition that the sanctions we put in place, for example, the most powerful sanctions, economic sanctions that have ever been applied against Iran, that those will not be lifted in the absence of significant steps in showing the international community that Iran is not pursuing a nuclear weapon. 
And as long as there’s an understanding about the basis of the conversation, then I think there’s no reason why we shouldn’t proceed. 
Photo Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

Election:What Rouhani Victory Means for Iran

Shaul Bakhash

            Hassan Rouhani’s surprising first round victory in the presidential elections represents a significant shift in the Iranian political landscape. In a field of candidates dominated by conservatives, Rouhani ran as a moderate. He questioned the necessity of the expanding security state and the constant oversight of student and civil society associations by the security agencies. He spoke of the need for greater freedom of press and speech. He devoted attention to women’s rights issues and promised to establish a ministry for women’s affairs.
      On the economy, while all the candidates promised to address problems of inflation and unemployment, Rouhani also focused on the institutions that make rational economic policy possible. He said one of his first acts would be to revive what were once key institutions such as the Plan Organization and the Supreme Economic Council, which outgoing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad did away with.
      On foreign policy, during the election campaign the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, continued to stress the need for resistance and steadfastness in the face of the ‘hegemonic’ West, warned against those who naively believe compromise with the West will gain Iran positive results, and ridiculed the idea that Iran was internationally isolated. But Rouhani, while appearing as steadfast as the other candidates on Iran’s nuclear rights, stressed the need to find a way out of the impasse with the West on the nuclear issue and to end Iran’s diplomatic isolation. He did not shy away, but rather defended, the softer line on the nuclear issue adopted by the government of President Mohammad Khatami, when Rouhani served as head of the National Security Council and as Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator.
            Rouhani may not make good on all his electoral promises, but his victory—he racked up nearly 51 percent of the vote—was a reaffirmation by a majority of Iranians of the desire for a more moderate, more sensible course in both domestic and foreign policy. That Tehran mayor Mohammad-Baqer Qalibaf came in second with 16 percent of the vote confirms the centrist inclinations of a large majority of Iranians. True, Qalibaf ran as a conservative, was a Revolutionary Guards commander, and even boasted during the election campaign (to a right-wing, para-military audience) of his role in suppressing earlier student protests. But most Iranians think of Qalibaf as the able manager, during his eight years as mayor, of a capital city of 10 million, when he built parks and recreation centers, broadened roads and improved the communications system. Together, Rouhani and Qalibaf accounted for 67 percent of the vote.
      The poor showing of the conservatives and hardliners in the election is also striking. Saeed Jalili, who ran on a platform that stressed conservative social values (women’s main role, he said, was as mothers and housewives) and, echoing Khamenei, resistance and steadfastness against the West, garnered less than 12 percent of the vote, and Ali Velayati, Khamenei’s foreign policy adviser, less than 7 percent. Rouhani, moreover, received, and welcomed, the endorsement of Khatami and another former president, Hashemi Rafsanjani, both denigrated by the conservatives for their association with the so-called ‘seditionist current’ of the Green Movement.
            We cannot be certain, of course, if turnout was as high (over 70 percent) as officially claimed; and we have to accept the official figures at face value. Still, the widespread expectation that the next president would be hand-picked by Khamenei needs reevaluation. While he is the ultimate decider on major issues, it is becoming clear that Khamenei is not as much in control of his lieutenants and the political class as was widely assumed. He could not get the conservatives to unite behind a single candidate, and the conservative vote ended up split among several contenders. Iran’s political leaders—even men close to Khamenei—continued to feud with one another even after he called on them to stop bickering and termed such infighting a sin. The country chose a president who, at least during the campaign, adopted a posture not in step with the policies preferred by the Supreme Leader.
            Khamenei will now have to live with yet another president who has a mind and agenda of his own. Since Khomeini’s death and Khamenei’s succession as Supreme Leader in 1989, Iran has had three presidents: Rafsanjani, Khatami, and Ahmadinejad. Each man put his own stamp on policy and the administration, certainly in his first term. Rafsanjani steered the country in a far more pragmatic direction in the economic sphere, privatizing state-owned enterprises and allowing the private sector greater room. He also opened up the social space for women and the young. Khatami considerably broadened political and press freedoms and the country during his first years in office enjoyed a short-lived political spring. Ahmadinejad, in the Hugo Chavez style, led a largely populist government. But in each instance, Khamenei, backed by the conservatives, was able to neutralize the president, and even to reverse his policies, in the second term. Admittedly, Ahmadinejad remained feisty and difficult to control nearly until the end.
            Rouhani will come to office with something of a popular mandate and commitment to a different set of priorities than have characterized Iranian government policy over the last few years. The change he promises is not of the scope with which Khatami initiated his reformist presidency in 1997; but he promises change nevertheless. Whether he will succeed, or whether he will initiate a change of direction only to be blocked by yet another rightwing backlash, remains to be seen.
This article was originally published by the Middle East program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars as Viewpoints No. 28. Click here for PDF format.
Shaul Bakhash is the Clarence Robinson Professor of History at George Mason University.


US Report: Human Trafficking Rises in Iran

            In its annual report on human trafficking, the State Department called Iran a “presumed source, transit, and destination country for men, women and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor.” The number of teenage girls in prostitution has reportedly risen significantly in Tehran. Between 35,000 and 50,000 children are forced by their parents or other adults to beg in the capital’s streets or work in sweatshops. The Islamic Republic has earned the lowest possible ranking on handling human trafficking every year since 2006. The following is an excerpt from the 2013 Trafficking in Persons Report.

            Iran is a presumed source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and  forced labor. Iranian and Afghan boys and girls residing in Iran are allegedly forced into prostitution within the country. In Tehran, there has reportedly been a recent significant increase in the number of teenage girls in prostitution. Iranian women, boys, and girls are purportedly subjected to sex  trafficking in Iran, as well as in Pakistan, the Persian Gulf, and Europe. Azerbaijani women and children are also believed to be subjected to sex trafficking in Iran. According to some estimates, there are 35,000-50,000 children forced by their parents or other adults to beg in the streets of Tehran or to work in sweatshops; some of these children are also reportedly forced into prostitution in Iran and abroad.
            Afghan migrants and refugees are reportedly subjected to forced labor in Iran. Pakistani men and women migrate voluntarily to Iran for low-skilled employment such as domestic work and construction. Some are suspected of being subsequently subjected to conditions of forced labor, including debt bondage, and experience restriction of movement, nonpayment of wages, and physical or sexual abuse. NGO reports indicate criminal organizations, sometimes politically connected, play a significant role in human trafficking in Iran. Unconfirmed reports indicate that some religious leaders and immigration officials are involved in human trafficking.
            The Government of Iran does not comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so. The government did not share information on its anti-trafficking efforts with the international community during the reporting period; this impedes the collection of information on the country’s human trafficking problem and the government’s efforts to curb it. Publicly available information from NGOs, the press, international organizations, and other governments indicate that the Iranian government is not taking sufficient steps to address its extensive trafficking challenges.
Recommendations for Iran
            Share anti-trafficking data with the UN and develop partnerships with international organizations; institute victim identification procedures to proactively identify victims of trafficking, particularly among vulnerable populations such as persons in prostitution, children in begging rings, and undocumented migrants; offer specialized protection services to victims of trafficking, including shelter and medical, psychological, and legal assistance; take measures to ensure sex and labor trafficking victims are not punished for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to sex trafficking or forced labor; increase transparency in government anti-trafficking policies and activities through public reporting; and accede to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.
            The Government of Iran made no discernible law enforcement efforts against human trafficking during the reporting period. A 2004 law prohibits trafficking in persons by means of threat or use of force, coercion, abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability of the victim for purposes of prostitution, slavery, or forced marriage. The prescribed penalty under this law reportedly is up to 10 years’ imprisonment, which is sufficiently stringent, but not commensurate with penalties prescribed under Iranian law for other serious crimes, such as rape. The Constitution and labor code both prohibit forced labor and debt bondage; the prescribed penalty of a fine and up to one years’ imprisonment is not sufficient to deter these serious crimes. In addition, the labor code does not apply to work in households. NGOs reported that these laws remained unenforced due to a lack of political will and widespread corruption. There were no reports of investigations or prosecutions of trafficking cases or convictions of trafficking offenders. It was reportedly extremely difficult for female trafficking victims to obtain justice; Iranian courts accorded legal testimony by women only half the weight accorded to the testimony by men, and women who were victims of sexual abuse were liable to be prosecuted for adultery, which is defined as sexual relations outside of marriage and is punishable by death. The government did not report efforts to investigate or punish government employees complicit in trafficking related offenses. There were reports that government officials were involved in the sex trafficking of women and girls; some officials that operated shelters for runaway girls reportedly forced them into prostitution rings.
            The Government of Iran made no discernible efforts to protect victims of trafficking during the reporting period. There is no evidence that the government has a process to identify trafficking victims among vulnerable populations found in the country. Iran has deported large numbers of undocumented Afghans without attempting to identify trafficking victims among them. The government also has reportedly punished victims of sex trafficking for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to human trafficking, for example, adultery and prostitution. There were reports that government officials raped individuals held in detention, some of whom may have been trafficking victims. There were no reports that the government referred trafficking victims to protective services. Some welfare organizations unrelated to the government may have helped Iranian trafficking victims.
            The government reportedly opened several shelters for street children in Tehran, though it is unclear what type of services were available to children in these shelters or if the shelters served any child victims of trafficking. There is no information to indicate the government provided assistance to repatriated Iranian victims of trafficking. The Iranian government did not provide foreign victims of trafficking with a legal alternative to removal to countries in which they may face hardship or retribution.
            There were no reports of efforts by the Government of Iran to prevent trafficking during the past year, such as campaigns to raise public awareness of trafficking, to reduce demand for commercial sex acts, or to reduce demand for child sex tourism by Iranians traveling abroad. There was no apparent improvement in the transparency of the government’s reporting on its own anti-trafficking policies or activities and no apparent efforts to forge partnerships with international organizations or NGOs in addressing human trafficking problems. Iran is not a party to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.

Rouhani: Diverse Reaction by Iranian Leaders

            Top Iranian leaders used their congratulatory messages to President-elect Hassan Rouhani to offer their own takes on the election results. Some seemed unwilling to concede the defeat of the hardliner “principlist” camp. Other leaders focused on the high turnout rather than Rouhani’s win, claiming the election as a victory for the theocracy. The following are excerpts from their remarks.

Leaders and Politicians
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, supreme leader
            “Congratulations to the people and to President-elect Hojatoleslam Hassan Rouhani. I urge everyone to help the president-elect and his colleagues in the government, as he is the president of the whole nation.” In a June 15 statement
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, outgoing president
            “I have always deeply believed in the vast and endless capacities of the Iranian nation for development and [achieving] greatness… I believe that all peaks of glory can be conquered by believing and trusting in the Iranian nation and by respecting different interests and tastes.” In June 15 message
Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, former president
            “The new president is expected to use this period of opportunity to efficiently make use of a skilled and sincere study of the situation, which is a precondition for change, to resolve day-t0-day economic problems, and to strengthen and sustain religious, national, and revolutionary values, as well as the hopes that have been created in the people’s hearts.” June 19 in remarks to the press
Mohammad Reza Bahonar, deputy speaker of parliament
            “President-elect Rouhani is non-partisan and other political parties should not feel defeated because his win is a win for the Iranian nation and national unity.” In a June 17 interview with Mehr News
Abbas Araqchi, Foreign Ministry spokesman
            “The Islamic Republic of Iran’s principles and values of foreign policy are unchangeable, and what changes in practice is methods and styles, and as Mr. Rouhani said, (the protection of) Iranian nation’s rights is the criterion, and any government in any situation is committed to defending them.” 
Vahid Ahmadi, member of parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Commission
            “The June 14 political epic [high voter turnout] enhanced Iran's bargaining power on the international scene. The diplomatic apparatus can… express its views with much more power to materialize people's demands now… Certainly people's high turnout has increased bargaining power on the nuclear issue.” In June 16 remarks published by Fars News Agency
Esmail Kowsari, Tehran member of parliament
            “My recommendation to those who are attempting to make the role of [former President Akbar] Hashemi [Rafsanjani] and [former President Mohammad] Khatami more colorful [in contributing to Rouhani’s victory] is that it is better for them not to continue such an approach, because the people do not accept such an approach and [one] must fundamentally say that the people no longer trust Hashemi and Khatami.” In June 18 comments published by Asriran
Hojatoleslam Ali Akbar Nategh Nouri, Expediency Council member
            Rouhani is a symbol of “rational moderation, true reformism and real principlism.” In June 18 comments published by Entekhab.ir
Hamid Reza Taraghi, Islamic Coalition Party deputy for international affairs
            Rouhani is a “completely moderate face” who is both “a principlist and also a reformist… Our criticism was regarding the Khatami administration’s foreign policy. Mr. Khatami and his associates insisted on becoming closer to America, and even did some lobbying in this regard… Mr. Rouhani made a decision based on the opinion of the Supreme National Security Council and the supreme leader.” In June 17 comments published by Asriran
The Islamic Revolution Steadfastness Front, hardliner political organization
            "Form a cabinet in the decade of progress and justice composed of officials loyal to Imam [Ruhollah] Khomeini’s ideals, the blood of the martyrs and the grand clergy; [They should be individuals who] also stand against aristocracy, rent-seeking, cultural laxness and resist against [Global] Arrogance, so that with God’s grace, the country’s movement toward the goals of the fourth decade of the revolution is further accelerated." In a June 19 statement published by Tasnim News Agency
Ayatollah Abbas Kabi, Assembly of Experts member
            “The result of the eleventh presidential elections was another stamp [which proved that] the system’s enemies claiming unrealistic cheating in the [2009] elections [were lying].” In a June 17 interview with Fars News Agency
2013 Presidential Candidates 
Saeed Jalili, chief nuclear negotiator and Supreme National Security Council secretary
            “I extend sincere congratulations to Mr. Rouhani for garnering the trust of the majority of the nation and being selected by the people. I give him sincere congratulations for this… In my opinion, I think, now everyone must ensure that the president-elect, Mr. Rouhani, is successful in dealing with economic situation and the difficulties that exist.” June 15
Mohammad Reza Aref, former vice president
            “The people have shown that they appreciate convergence and understanding as many said that they would not vote, and that my encouragement was extremely valuable.” In June 17 remarks published by the Iranian Labour News Agency
Mohsen Rezaei, former Revolutionary Guards chief
            “I extend my congratulations for the election of Hassan Rouhani both to him and his supporters. I hope from our God that he is able to deal with the economic difficulties the people face.” June 15
Ali Akbar Velayati, advisor to the supreme leader and former foreign minister
            “First a congratulations for garnering the vote of the people, the vote of the people is a big indication of support and you must accept that choice. I am hopeful, that God willing, this vote will be even stronger in the future.” June 15
The Revolutionary Guards
            “We are fully prepared to cooperate with the future administration in the framework of all our legitimate duties and missions. The grand and passionate presence of the people in the election on the one hand began a new chapter in the evolutionary movement of the Islamic Revolution and the progress of the country, and on the other hand, signaled another defeat for the enemies’ front.” In a June 16 statement
Yadollah Javani, senior advisor to the supreme leader’s representative to the Revolutionary Guards
            "The slogans that Mr. Rouhani announced during the elections indicate that he does not belong to the Reformist current at all, rather he is moderate, centered and law abiding and has announced that he will utilize the capabilities of moderate principlists and reformists." In June 19 comments published by Fars News Agency
Hojatoeslam Mojtaba Zolnour, advisor to the supreme leader’s representative to the Revolutionary Guards
            “The remainders of the [2009] sedition, who [made repeated claims of] cheating and said the election results were predetermined and [that] the people’s participation had no effect received an answer from the people.” In a June 18 interview with Asriran
Hossein Shariatmadari, editor of conservative newspaper Kayhan
            “Attempts are being made to show that Hassan Rouhani owes his presidency to the support he received from reformists. It must be said that not only does Rouhani not feel obligated to reformists, but it is reformists who should thank Rouhani as his rise to power provides them an occasion to return to the political stage.” In June 17 comments published by Jahan News

G8 Communique on Iran

            On June 18, the Group of Eight industrialized nations called on Iran to move “without delay” to fulfill its long-delayed obligations in answering questions about its controversial nuclear program. It also called on the international community to fully implement a variety of U.N. sanctions resolutions designed to pressure Tehran into compliance. The following is an excerpt from the joint statement by the G8 the United States, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Russia – following their summit in Northern Ireland.

            Iran’s nuclear programme, which it continues to develop in violation of UN Security Council Resolutions and in defiance of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors resolutions, remains a source of serious concern. We once again urge Iran to comply fully and without delay with these international obligations. We call on the international community to ensure full implementation of UN sanctions. We stress that it is essential and urgent for Iran to cooperate fully with the IAEA on all aspects of its nuclear programme, including to resolve questions on its possible military dimensions, and to engage actively and constructively with the E3+3 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the UK, the US and the EU High Representative) to find the diplomatic resolution to the nuclear issue which we seek. We reaffirm that in line with the UN Security Council’s approved dual track approach, Iran has the ability to avoid further isolation and improve its situation only if it promptly addresses the concerns of the international community. We strongly urge Iran to fully respect its human rights obligations. We note the election of President-elect Rouhani and we invite Iran to use this opportunity to resolve its differences with the international community.


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