Iran 2014-2016

Written by  //  September 27, 2016  //  Iran  //  Comments Off on Iran 2014-2016

See also Wednesday Night #1741

Young men make wars, and the virtues of war are the virtues of young men. Courage and hope for the future. Then old men make the peace. And the vices of peace are the vices of old men. Mistrust and caution. It must be so. —Faisal (Alec Guinness) Lawrence of Arabia.

Five Things Last Night’s Debate Proved Donald Trump Doesn’t Understand About the Iran Deal
(J Street) 1. The agreement has been a huge success
Thanks to the JCPOA agreement, Iran has had its entire nuclear program defanged and every potential pathway to a nuclear weapon blocked. Iran has gotten rid of 97 percent of its enriched uranium; it has dismantled and removed over ⅔ of its centrifuges; its plutonium reactor has been filled with concrete. Its nuclear facilities are now subjected to the most stringent and transparent inspections and monitoring regime ever agreed.
2. The agreement prohibits Iran from ever pursuing nuclear weapons – and ensures permanent inspections to make sure they don’t.
4 March
(World Post round-up) Could it be that the ‘Persian Spring,’ manifested by the anti-hard-line vote this week in which over 60 percent of Iran’s eligible electorate went to the polls, has a better chance to succeed than the Arab Spring?
Unlike the brittle autocracies in most of the Arab world that shattered when challenged, Iran has a robust civil society combined with quasi-democratic institutions put in place after the revolution in 1979 that seemingly enable the country to evolve instead of explode. And Iranians are intent on making their own changes without the outside interventions that have roiled the broader Mideast region in recent years.
As Reza Marashi writes, “These elections reflect Iranian society’s continued desire to bring about change through gradual evolution rather than radical upheaval. They are demanding pragmatic and democratic reform within the existing system. No one is calling for a revolution, and a diverse socioeconomic swath of Iranian society rejects foreign interference in its politics.” Former Iranian National Security Council member Hossein Mousavian hopes the West now grasps that his country has the capacity and institutions to make change on its own terms. “Iranians who went to the voting booths have a palpable sense of the indifference of the West to the existence of democracy and elections in Iran,” he testily writes. While no one expects changes overnight, it is clear that, as Iranian philosopher Ramin Jahanbegloo notes, “the results amounted to a popular endorsement of [President Hassan] Rouhani’s policy of “constructive and dignified engagement with the world.” Their real impact, he adds, “will be felt in the next few years when the battle for the next supreme leader starts.” Negar Mortazavi explains the unique conjunction of foreign policy shifts, political coalitions and social media that determined the outcome of the elections.
Muhammad Sahimi sees an inexorable outcome down the road: “The hard-liners that have isolated Iran and repressed its people are on the wane,” he writes. Trita Parsi assesses the impact of the nuclear deal between Iran and the West on the vote. “The election results are also a vindication of the Obama administration’s outreach and negotiations with Iran,” he says. “For decades, moderates in Iran could not demonstrate the benefits of their moderate policies because of an unwillingness in Washington to play ball and negotiate directly with Tehran.”
29 February
President Hassan RouhaniVox Sentences: What to make of Iran’s election results
Iran’s Friday elections dealt a serious blow to hard-liners. Moderates and moderate conservatives together won enough seats to obtain a coalition majority over the hard-line bloc. Furthermore, hard-liners also lost out in the elections for the country’s Assembly of Experts — which will choose the country’s next supreme leader (once Ayatollah Ali Khamenei dies). Khamenei prevented many moderate candidates from running. So Iran hawks in the US claim it’s unfair to call the election’s winners moderates — the real moderates weren’t on the ballot.But as Farideh Farhi points out, the candidate coalition that won, called the Hope List, didn’t identify itself as moderate — it identified itself as supporters of current President Hassan Rouhani, and in particular the nuclear deal he signed with the US. In effect, the election realigned Iran’s party system around the axis of support versus opposition to the nuclear deal. And the supporters won.One analyst thinks the elections were so good for Rouhani that he could even be elected the next supreme leader himself. 27 February
Iran election: President Hassan Rouhani, moderates make big gains
(Reuters via CBC) Rouhani, reformist supporters faced hardliners close to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
While gains by moderates and reformists in Friday’s polls were most evident in the capital, Tehran, the sheer scale of the advances there suggests a legislature more friendly to the pragmatist Rouhani has emerged as a distinct possibility.
A loosening of control by the anti-Western hardliners who currently dominate the 290-seat parliament could strengthen his hand to open Iran further to foreign trade and investment following last year’s breakthrough nuclear deal.
…  Because of Khamenei’s health and age, 76, the new assembly members who serve eight-year terms are likely to choose his successor.
The next leader could well be among those elected this week. Rafsanjani is among the founders of the Islamic Republic and was its president from 1989-1997.
25 February
Nuclear Deal in Place, Iran Is Testing New Missiles and Doubling Down in Syria
Tehran is wagering the Obama administration is so committed to the nuclear pact that it will look the other way.
(Foreign Policy) During festivities this month marking the anniversary of Iran’s 1979 revolution, officials publicly displayed a mock-up of the country’s latest rocket, the Simorgh. Designed to launch a satellite into space, it bears a striking resemblance to the rocket North Korea just used for its own satellite launch, reinforcing concerns that Tehran is working with Pyongyang to develop advanced ballistic missiles capable of hitting Israel and parts of Europe.
… While U.S. officials say Iran has so far abided by the nuclear accord, Tehran in recent months has been flouting separate international restrictions on ballistic missiles and arms imports while expanding its support for militants in the region. Iran has recently conducted two ballistic missile tests despite a U.N. ban and appears poised to launch its new Simorgh rocket. Western intelligence agencies fear Iran is working its way to building an intercontinental ballistic missile, which could eventually be outfitted with an atomic warhead — if Tehran were to opt out of the nuclear agreement.
10 February
Iran to upgrade missiles, get Russian defense system: minister
(Reuters) Iran will unveil an upgrade of its Emad ballistic missiles this year, the defense minister was quoted as saying, advancing a program that has drawn criticism from the United Nations and sanctions from the United States.
The Islamic Republic would also start taking delivery of an advanced Russian S-300 surface-to-air missile defense system in the next two months, Hossein Dehghan added – a system that was blocked before a landmark nuclear deal with world powers.
… the United States says the Emad is capable of carrying a nuclear warhead and the test therefore violated a U.N. resolution. Washington imposed fresh sanctions last month against Iranian individuals and businesses linked to the missile program.
21 January
FT reports: Iran plans to buy 114 Airbus jets. Italy also lining up €17bn in deals as Iran nuclear accord bears commercial fruit

Iran tourism: 30 beautiful surprises waiting to be discovered by adventurous travellers
(International Business Times) The lifting of sanctions on Iran as a result of its nuclear deal with world powers could result in a huge tourism boom. Iran made it on to the top destination lists of major publications such as The Financial Times and The Guardian in 2015 thanks to sights that include 2,500-year-old ruins at Persepolis near Shiraz and 16th-century Islamic architectural gems in Isfahan.
The World Travel Market 2015 Industry Report said Iran was set to become a tourism hotspot. However, it will be some time before the country becomes a mainstream destination given strict Islamic regulations and the long-term effects of sanctions that mean the industry has to rebuild itself. Under Iran’s Islamic Sharia law, imposed since its 1979 Islamic revolution, women are obliged to cover their hair and body, unmarried couples may not share a hotel room and alcohol is banned. Western credit cards also don’t work, meaning foreigners have to bring cash.
Adventurous tourists are already rushing to discover the riches the country has to offer, including ancient ruins, pristine beaches and popular ski resorts. In this gallery, IBTimes UK presents 30 photos of beautiful sights that should be on every itinerary.

 iran-tourism Isfahan
Obama Leaves a Legacy, Rouhani Kickstarts Presidency
By Negar Mortazavi, Iranian Journalist and Analyst
(HuffPost) This past week has been historic for Iran. After years of isolation and economic hardship, the nuclear deal finally went into effect and sanctions were lifted. International companies are returning back to the country after a long period of absence. Iranian banks are reentering the world financial systems again. Vital import and export lines are reopening for Iran. Billions of frozen Iranian assets were unblocked worldwide to boost a crippled economy. A young and vibrant society that has long been hungry for change is now reemerging into the world, with many hopes and high aspirations. And travel experts keep telling the world to visit the newly welcoming Iran, this long forgotten gem of a destination.
It was a happy week for Iranians across the world who stayed up until very late hours to follow the news of the implementation of a historic deal. Those who’ve lost loved ones in flight accidents in Iran’s aging fleet are happy to see that the United States is finally allowing Iran to buy new commercial aircraft, after three decades of deadly flights and thousands of civilian deaths. Those who saw loved ones suffer or die from the lack of vital medicine due to sanctions will now have hope for a brighter future. Young tech entrepreneurs in Iran have been eagerly waiting for this day to join the international business and tech community and turn Tehran into the Silicon Valley of the Middle East. Iranians in the diaspora are happy, too. I keep hearing of more Iranian students and young professionals abroad who speak of moving back to their country now. Even those who are not thinking of moving back are proud to see their homeland come out of a dark era.
5 January
Saudi-Iran standoff: War or a grand bargain?
Mending relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran will have to be part of a ‘grand bargain’, Arab analysts say
(Al Jazeera) With the negotiations already unlikely to be successful, the larger question is what the rift may mean for the trajectory of the Syrian conflict and future peace talks. The rift will further delegitimise negotiations as a means of ending the conflict as neither side accepts giving up concessions to the other.
This will give greater impetus to the military solution already proffered by both regimes. Sectarian posturing of the kind we have seen this week will continue and thus make concessions on regional issues, such as the Syrian conflict, even more difficult.
What the diplomatic rift does, then, is force both countries into openly hostile and confrontational positions that need to be reconciled before any serious negotiations can take place.
A view from Iran on heightened conflict with Saudi Arabia
(PBS Newshour) As the diplomatic fallout continues over Saudi Arabia’s execution of a prominent Shiite cleric and the ensuing destructive protests, how does Iran see the crisis? William Brangham talks to Thomas Erdbrink of The New York Times. (Video)


31 December
Rouhani expands Iran’s missile program despite U.S. sanctions threat
(Reuters) President Hassan Rouhani ordered his defense minister on Thursday to expand Iran’s missile program, in defiance of a U.S. threat to impose sanctions over a ballistic missile test Iran carried out in October.
Under a landmark agreement it clinched with world powers in July, Iran is scaling back a nuclear program that the West feared was aimed at acquiring atomic weapons, in return for an easing of international sanctions. It hopes to see these lifted early in the new year.
But sources familiar with the situation said on Wednesday that Washington is preparing new sanctions against international companies and individuals over Iran’s testing of a medium-range Emad rocket on Oct. 10.
The escalating dispute centers on the types of missile that the Islamic Republic is allowed to develop and whether they are capable of, or designed to, carry nuclear warheads. Iran denies it fired rockets near U.S. warship in Gulf
28 October
Iran agrees to participate in multilateral Syrian peace talks
Iran for the first time will be represented at the Syrian peace talks, with Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif expected to attend. Around 12 participants, including the US, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and France, will attend the talks, beginning Friday in Vienna. Reuters (10/28), BBC (10/28), The Associated Press (10/27)
27 September
Syria and Iran Taken Hostage by Putin’s Geopolitical Goals
Moscow and Tehran are considered as allies in the fight to keep Assad in power, but Russia’s decision to play a larger role in Syria could end up being at Iran’s expense.
(Haaretz) So far, Russia and Iran were considered to be allies, sharing the common goal of keeping Assad in power. Both supplied arms, lines of credit and military advice to the Syrian regime, with Russia also putting up a diplomatic umbrella by using its UN Security Council veto to prevent anti-Assad resolutions. Iran, through Hezbollah and other Shi’ite militias, supplied manpower to replenish the Syrian army’s thinning ranks. The abrupt entry of the Russian expeditionary force has tilted the scales in the Assad coalition: Russia turned from a distant supporter to an active participant on the ground, becoming overnight a much more influential factor, in a way which made her different interest in the survival of the Damascus regime plainly evident.
Iran denounces Saudi Arabia over haj and demands apology
(Reuters) Iran demanded an apology from Saudi Arabia on Sunday over the deaths of 769 people at the haj pilgrimage and accused it of trying to evade blame, while Riyadh in turn accused Tehran of playing politics with the disaster.
At least 155 Iranian pilgrims died in the crush of pilgrims on Thursday near Mecca and 300 other Iranians remain unaccounted for. Iranian officials say that, three days after the incident, they suspect most of the missing are dead too.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Muslim countries should demand Saudi Arabia be held to account for the deaths. The kingdom presents itself as the guardian of Islamic orthodoxy and custodian of its holiest places in Mecca and Medina. …
A cartoon published by Iran’s Tasnim news agency depicted King Salman of Saudi Arabia as a camel trampling pilgrims.Kayhan newspaper showed him shaking hands with one of the pillars symbolizing the devil in the haj’s stoning ritual. Saudi daily Asharq al-Awsat appeared to blame Iranian pilgrims for the disaster.
22 September
Iran best defence against Mideast ‘terror’: Rouhani
(AFP) – Iran’s armed forces are the best defence against “terror” in the Middle East, President Hassan Rouhani said on Tuesday, urging regional countries not to rely on world powers.
25 August
Supporters of Iran agreement gain momentum
(PBS) Supporters of the Iran nuclear deal see growing momentum on their side in the Senate, raising the possibility they’ll be able to block a disapproval resolution and protect President Barack Obama from having to use his veto pen.
21 August
Iran nuclear deal
(World Post) In the dog days of late summer in the northern hemisphere, the fate of the deal that would curb Iran’s capacity to produce nuclear weapons twists in the wind. The ongoing uncertainty has revealed just how hard it is for U.S. President Barack Obama to establish his authority over the U.S. Congress and America’s allies. The robust public debate over the controversial deal in Iran also reveals it is a much more open society than its Arab counterparts in the region.
Seyed Hossein Mousavian, a former head of the foreign relations committee of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, envisions a new era of relations between Iran and America and calls on Congress not to make an “historic blunder” by rejecting the deal. Iranian philosopher Ramin Jahanbegloo argues that “the habits of hope in Iranian culture” are behind the public embrace of the agreement. WorldPost Managing Editor Farah Mohamed surveys views on the deal from everyday people on the ground in Iran. Payam Mohseni examines how experts and scholars in the Arab world regard the Iran deal. Writing from Amman, Daoud Kuttab sees signs that the prospect of rapprochement with Iran on the nuclear issue is easing, not exacerbating, conflicts in the Middle East. Noam Chomsky questions the notion that Iran is the biggest threat to world peace. Nuclear physicist Yousaf Butt writes from London that past mistakes by IAEA inspectors give Iran good reason to insist on its own inspection of the Parchin weapons site. Jessica Schulberg and Sam Stein report on the controversy over the procedures of the IAEA inspection accord with Iran.
Expecting Iran to cheat is why we need this deal, says former Mossad chief
(PBS Newshour) Efraim Halevy, former director of Israel’s intelligence and special operations agency Mossad, is breaking with his country’s government and public opinion to support the Iran nuclear agreement.
3 August
Gulf allies ‘back Iran nuclear deal’ after US security guarantees
On Monday, Mr Kerry discussed the nuclear deal with members of the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) – a regional body bringing together Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain and Qatar.
He later told reporters “it was crystal clear that the US and GCC” regarded their partnership “as indispensible for the security of the region”.
He said the US had agreed to speed up the transfer of weapons – including missiles – to its allies in the Gulf, as well as to co-operate more closely with them against Islamic State (IS) militants and al-Qaeda.

The Iran deal is good for Middle East peace
The international unity forged in Vienna may be able to resolve other deep-rooted regional problems in the region.
By Daoud Kuttab,  award-winning Palestinian journalist,  former Ferris professor of journalism at Princeton
(Al Jazeera) As the pros and cons of the P5+1 (UN Security Council members plus Germany) deal with Iran are being debated in the US Congress and elsewhere, it is important to look at the larger picture of this historic agreement.
It is true that there are some concerns that a sanctions-free Iran will flex its regional muscle even more after the deal. But the benefits of such a deal outweigh the fear-based perceived risks.
After years of failure on so many fronts, this is the first major breakthrough for international diplomacy.
For the first time in many years, all major world powers worked together for an agreement that pushes nuclear proliferation away.
There are surely some warmongers claiming the deal will speed up the nuclear race, but the same international unity that was displayed in Vienna can be used again to stop any regional or international power from trying to accelerate nuclear production.
The UN’s nuclear monitor, the IAEA is stronger, not weaker as a result of this agreement.

24 July
World Post Weekend roundup On the Iran nuclear deal, Republicans, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and conservative Jewish supporters accused President Obama of capitulating to an enemy. On the regional implications of the deal, writing from Jerusalem, Shlomo Avineri fears it could exacerbate Sunni-Shia-Israeli tension by empowering Shia Iran and its allies.
But not all Israelis agree. Former Israeli Deputy National Security Advisor Chuck Freilich asserts that although the Iran deal is a “painful compromise,” Israel is safer with it than without it. Former Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami agrees and contends that Netanyahu’s vehement opposition to the deal has only reinforced Israel’s increasingly isolated position in the world.
Famed economist Jeffrey Sachs applauds President Obama for standing up to the “clamoring of the warmongers” with the deal.
22 July
Robin Wright: Tehran’s Promise
The revolution’s midlife crisis and the nuclear deal.
(The New Yorker) Iran’s revolutionaries are aging. Most are in their late fifties, sixties, or seventies. The Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, turned seventy-six this month. More than sixty per cent of Iran’s eighty million people are under the age of thirty-five. A baby-boom generation, born after the revolution, doesn’t share all of its priorities.
These days, the energy—and the locus for charting Iran’s future—is less in heady debates about an ideal Islamic state than in a practical scramble to exploit twenty-first-century technology to change society. More than a third of the population uses the Internet. Giant billboards for a new smart-phone model were plastered across Tehran this summer: “NEXT IS NOW.”
Iran deal: A possible game-changer for Afghanistan
The nuclear agreement could be a vital booster for the restoration of Afghan heritage.
21 July
Shahir ShahidSaless: Behind Ayatollah Khamenei’s Support for a Nuclear Deal He Previously Disavowed
(HuffPost) Just three weeks before the historic agreement between Iran and the group of six world powers, Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, issued comprehensive red lines for a possible nuclear deal.
His official twitter account summarized those red lines in a table classifying them in seven categories. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) — the nuclear deal reached on July 14 in Vienna – clearly violates the lines almost in their entirety.Among his followers who shape the backbone of the supporters of the revolution, Khamenei has been the symbol of resistance against the “global arrogance led by the United States.” This retreat puts his stature greatly at risk.
17 July
(World Post) While the nuclear deal with Iran and a promised end to sanctions was celebrated on the streets of Tehran and in the White House, critics were quick to emerge. In an exclusive interview with The WorldPost, Abolhassan Bani-Sadr, the first president of the Islamic Republic of Iran, scores the Vienna accord as “a capitulation to outside powers by the regime of the ayatollahs that has brought this fate upon the Iranian people.” World editor Charlotte Alfred provides a guide to the terms of the deal, looks at how political cartoonists reacted and speaks with the International Crisis Group’s Ali Vaez about how the nuclear deal will affect Iran’s foreign policy. Richard Haass worries that even if Iran keeps to the Vienna accord, it will retain the capacity for a rapid “break out” to weapons-grade enrichment. Israel diplomat Josef Olmert examines the “unhappiness” in Tel Aviv in response to the agreement. MIT’s John Tirman calls the Iran nuclear deal “the most important ‘victory’ for global peace in the last three decades.” Former arms inspector Scott Ritter sees the nuclear agreement as a “sideshow” compared to the import of Iran’s emergence as a major regional power that must be dealt with.
15-16 July
Robert Fisk: Iran is now the good guy on the block
(Dawn) Forget about President Barack Obama’s legacy and all the technical twaddle in the agreement – 100 pages in Farsi – because Iran is now on course to put on the dead Shah’s mantle as the policeman of the Gulf. Middle East seismologists should get ready for the earthquake.
Goodbye, therefore, to the overwhelming influence of the Sunni nations which gave their sons to the 9/11 crimes against humanity and provided the world with Osama bin Laden; which supported the Taliban and then the Sunni Islamists of Iraq and Syria and – finally – those emirs and princes who support the self-styled Islamic State (IS). Washington is tired of the decrepit princes of the Gulf, their puritanical lectures, their tiresome wealth (unless it’s paying for US weaponry) and their grotty civil war in Yemen. Shia Iran is now the good guy on the block.
Iran is now in the top rank of those who can negotiate over the future of Syria and the Assad regime. Its Guard Corps and Hezbollah allies from Lebanon are in the front lines against the Islamists.
Iran will try to persuade the Obama administration to support Assad – however tacitly – if he wants to destroy the Sunni Wahhabist IS as much as Iran does. Arab sources say that Messers Kerry and Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, have spent many an hour chatting on this very subject in Vienna. Do we hear the clink of champagne glasses in Damascus? Robert Fisk– Iran nuclear deal: America has taken Iran’s side – to the fury of Israel and Saudi Arabia
14 July
Turning Point | Iran Nuclear Deal
Our Turning Point panel digs deep into Iran’s landmark nuclear deal.
Iran nuclear deal could change country’s place in the world: Nahlah Ayed
(CBC) It is no grand bargain.
It doesn’t even begin to address the core of Iran’s problematic relations with the West, much less settle the region’s multilayered conflicts.
But it opens a door where there was once a wall decades thick.

Many will quibble with the details. In fact, there will be bitter arguments over them.
But once approved by U.S. and Iranian lawmakers, the historic deal concluded this morning between Iran and world powers will stunt the Mideast nation’s nuclear capability and put a nuclear bomb out of its reach for more than a decade, in return for a lifting of sanctions.
Ever so slightly, but significantly, a geopolitical axis has also been tilted.
For the many Iranians we met in Tehran last month desperate for an end to their isolation, this is a major home victory for moderation and compromise the likes of which they have never witnessed.
Not since the collapse of the Soviet Union has a country of such strategic importance reset its terms of engagement with the rest of the world in such a transformative way.
Furthermore, in a region rife with conflict, what had been thought an intractable problem has been solved through negotiation and diplomacy.

Iran nuclear deal negotiators
Jeffrey Goldberg: The Single Most Important Question to Ask About the Iran Deal
Making sense of a morally dubious agreement that might be a practical necessity
(The Atlantic) The theocratic regime that rules Iran—a regime that is a committed and proficient sponsor of terrorism, according to John Kerry’s State Department—will be more powerful tomorrow than it is today, thanks to the agreement it has just negotiated with the Obama administration, America’s European allies, and two U.S. adversaries as well.
This sad conclusion is unavoidable. The lifting of crippling sanctions, which will come about as part of the nuclear deal struck in Vienna, means that at least $150 billion, a sum Barack Obama first invoked in May, will soon enough flow to Tehran. With this very large pot of money, the regime will be able to fund both domestic works and foreign adventures in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon, Iraq, and elsewhere. …
… Does this deal significantly reduce the chance that Iran could, in the foreseeable future, continue its nefarious activities under the protection of a nuclear umbrella? If the answer to this question is yes, then a deal, in theory, is worth supporting.
Meet the men behind Iran’s nuclear deal
Throughout negotiations, the Iranian politicians at the forefront of the deal have made many – at times conflicting – statements on the future of Iran’s nuclear programme. Below are profiles of the four men who have been at the centre of the negotiation process, and what they had been saying.
3 July
Managing success of the Iranian nuclear deal
Five scenarios to consider, even if an agreement is reached next week
(Open Canada) The dangers of Iran getting the bomb are well known. Israel, Canada, and others have made sure of it, and for good reason.
But the dangers of actually getting a nuclear deal with Iran are also significant. The international community — if that’s what the P5+1 side of the negotiating table represents — should be just as focused on the ripple effects a deal could have on the region and on global power dynamics.
As the deadline for reaching an agreement is now extended until July 7, hopefully there are groups of smart folks in Washington and other allied capitals laying track for managing “success” by gaming out a range of scenarios, including the following:
Scenario 1: There may be ratification hiccups
Both ‘good cop’ negotiating parties, principally the American and Iranian negotiating teams, have ‘bad cop’ constituencies back home: Congress and Ayatollah Khamenei, respectively. Both could be deal breakers.
28 May
What we get wrong about Iran
(CNN)… broadly speaking, Iran is a young, urban, educated and increasingly Western-oriented population yearning to be part of the international community.
It isn’t surprising if you look at the numbers: Two-thirds of Iran’s population is under the age of 35 (the median age is 29). Education standards, meanwhile, are high, and the universities are strong, particularly in engineering and math. Also, some 60% of university students are women, as are 50% of the engineering students. And Iranians are curious about the rest of the world — an estimated 55,000 Iranian students study abroad each year, with the United States being one of the top destinations.
15 May
Thirteen Things I Learned in Iran
(HuffPost) Istanbul, Turkey — I just experienced the blessing of visiting Iran for the first time. Here are some things I learned.
1. If you are visiting someone’s office and you appear very sleepy, you may be asked if you want to take a nap. If you say yes, a comfortable place to take a nap may be immediately prepared. I want to state categorically for the record that no country in which you can take a nap any time you want should ever be bombed by anyone.
13 April
Writing in The Hill Times, David Jones compares the INF Treaty [he was a member of the INF negotiating team], with the Prospective Iran Nuclear Agreement:
Iran nuclear agreement in its current iteration akin to a half-completed skyscraper
It destroys nothing. Most of the centrifuges designed to enrich uranium at best are put into storage. There is no published agreement on the future of the overwhelming bulk of the already enriched uranium (10,000 kilograms supposedly to be reduced to 300 kilograms).
He adds, “the Iran agreement, designed to defer at least (prevent at best) Tehran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, is regarded as uniquely destabilizing for states in the Middle East. These are notably Israel, which regards Iranian nuclear weapons as existential threats, but also all other states deeply concerned over burgeoning Iranian regional power.”
6 April
Nuclear Experts Endorse Iran Nuclear Agreement In Open Letter
The fallout from last week’s nuclear framework agreement between world powers and Iran has seen proponents and critics of the deal loudly sounding off on its supposed merits or flaws. On Monday, 30 top nuclear nonproliferation experts took sides in the debate by issuing a joint statement that strongly endorsed the agreement.
Describing the framework as a “vitally important step forward,” the statement breaks down the positive aspects of the proposed deal from a security and nonproliferation standpoint
Barack Obama fights back against Israeli critics of Iran nuclear deal
US president says framework is ‘once-in-lifetime’ chance to prevent Iran getting nuclear weapon and pledges to support Israel’s defences
Two days after the announcement of the deal between Iran and the major world powers – achieved in Switzerland after 18 months of talks and which must be finalised by the end of June – Obama spoke to the New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman at the White House for an interview that was published online on Sunday.
Earlier in the day the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, who has consistently warned against international accommodation with Iran over its nuclear ambitions, appeared on three US news shows to say the agreement was “a very bad deal”.
Commodore C. Uday Bhaskar ties three developments of different nature in Iran, Yemen and Kenya last week (April 2) to draw attention to the potential of major changes in the prevailing regional strategic and security framework.
Iran nuclear agreement and turmoil in West Asia
If Iran is accepted a normal stake-holder in regional affairs, the balance of power in the West Asian region will change radically.
(South Asia Monitor) The return of Iran to the global fold has long term implications that go beyond the nuclear issue. Since the overthrow of the Shah in 1979 and the emergence of the clergy-led Shia leadership in Tehran, the US and its allies have sought to both demonize and ostracize Iran. Consequently the geo-politics of West Asia and the Islamic world have been dominated by the Saudi-led Sunni constituency with its many proxies that also sought to propagate a certain brand of Islam. Iran in turn has practised a path that combined defiance with pragmatism while consolidating its own influence in Syria, the Gulf and now Yemen.
3 April
The most intelligent commentary so far:
The Iranian Nuclear Deal: What the Experts Are Saying
Ignore the right-wing politicians and pundits. Here’s what nonproliferation wonks think about the accord.
(Mother Jones) Nuclear nonproliferation is a subject that depends upon science. And it is difficult for nonexperts to assess any nonproliferation agreement. But it is rather easy to decry Tehran’s leaders as evil tyrants who support terrorism, despise Israel, and cannot be trusted. Little of that sort of attack has any bearing on evaluating this framework, which may or may not lead to a concrete accord. Trust is not at issue, for example. What counts is whether the technical means of inspection agreed upon are deemed sufficient to monitor the nuclear program, materials, supply chain, and facilities that remain.
… There are [nonproliferation experts] scientists and policy mavens who are trained to study and answer the questions posed by this framework. They are not infallible. They may disagree among themselves. But if there ever were a policy debate that should be shaped by scientific expertise, this is it.
Iran mapIranians celebrate, Obama hails ‘historic’ nuclear framework
(Reuters) – Iranians celebrated in the streets after negotiators reached a framework for a nuclear deal that could bring their country in from the cold, hailed by U.S. President Barack Obama as an “historic understanding” with an old adversary.
The tentative agreement, struck on Thursday after eight days of talks in Switzerland, clears the way for negotiations on a settlement aimed at allaying Western fears that Iran was seeking to build an atomic bomb and in return lift economic sanctions on the Islamic Republic.
Iran, world powers now move to details of nuclear agreement
Six negotiating countries and Iran concurred on a framework for reducing Iran’s nuclear capabilities and the future lifting of sanctions against the country. All parties will return to the negotiating table to spell out implementation details, which must be decided by June 30. The Associated Press (4/3), The New York Times (tiered subscription model) (4/2), Council on Foreign Relations online/Energy, Security and Climate blog (4/2)
Comprehensive framework agreed to curb Iran’s nuclear program
(Globe & Mail) Iran and the world powers said here Thursday that they had reached a surprisingly specific and comprehensive general understanding about the next steps in limiting Tehran’s nuclear program, though Western officials said many details needed to be resolved before a final agreement in June.
In the Iran Talks, Does a Missed Deadline Matter?  — republished with permission of Stratfor.
From Iran’s point of view, it was a deadline to be exploited, not one to fret over. Iranian leaders, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, had expressed misgivings about a framework agreement, insisting that the deal is not done until all core issues are resolved in a final deal. The White House imposed the March deadline to prove to Congress that enough progress was being made to hold off on sanctions. Still, a dodged deadline and a diluted progress report are unlikely to calm dissenters in Congress. Even if a bill calling for additional sanctions in the event of a violation of an agreement makes its way through Congress, it will be vetoed in the Oval Office. Congress overturning that veto is a less likely prospect. In Iran’s neighborhood, states like Saudi Arabia do not have the luxury of betting against the United States and Iran and have to prepare for the worst. The developing U.S.-Iranian relationship is what has driven Saudi Arabia into action in leading its Sunni allies against Iran across multiple fronts, with Yemen now in the spotlight.
16 March
Kurds concerned over Iran-backed Shia militias in Iraq
Iraqi Kurdistan intelligence chief Masrour Barzani told the BBC the use of such militias could create a bigger problem than IS itself by exacerbating tensions with Sunni Muslims.
In the BBC interview, Mr Barzani strongly criticised the government in Baghdad for using the Popular Mobilisation militias, who had largely eclipsed the Iraqi army in the battle for the predominantly Sunni Tikrit.
“This is going to create a bigger problem than ISIS [IS],” he said.
“All of us have to together fight ISIS. But if revenge, retaliation between sects or religions, ethnic groups happens, then this will become a much more difficult problem.”
Mr Barzani was also clearly furious that the Shia militias – as well as the administration in IS-held areas – were being paid by the government in Baghdad while it was withholding budget funds from Kurdistan and its Peshmerga forces battling IS, the BBC’s Jim Muir in northern Iraq says. Foreign Policy notes: Iran has sent advanced rockets and missiles to Tikrit, Iraq, to help the fight against Islamic State forces there, according to U.S. officials. The deployment of the advanced weapons, none of which have yet been used, is a signal of Iran’s growing influence in Iraq: Of the 30,000 Iraqi troops marshaled for the operation in Tikrit, two thirds are reportedly from Iranian-backed Shiite militias.
12 March
U.S. Warplanes Are Helping Iran Win
Iran and America are still enemies, technically. But U.S. airpower has ISIS pinned down in Iraq. And that’s helping Iran move in.
Forces loyal to Iran are threatening to break ISIS’s grip on the key Iraqi city of Tikrit. Officially, the American military isn’t helping these Shiite militias and Iranian advisers as they team up with Iraqi forces to hit the self-proclaimed Islamic State. But U.S. officials admit that American airstrikes are a major reason Iran’s proxies are advancing on Tikrit, Saddam Hussein’s hometown.
The U.S.-led air campaign has not only crippled ISIS’s ability to move freely. It’s also providing air cover for Iraqi troops and the Iranian forces fighting alongside of them. It is a perilous, yet unspoken, military alliance between the U.S. and its top regional foe that some said could lead to an ISIS defeat in the short term and ethnic cleansing of Sunni Iraqis in the long run.
Members of the United Nations Security Council reportedly are discussing a resolution to lift sanctions against Iran should the ongoing nuclear talks result in an agreement. Such a resolution likely would be legally binding, officials say. Reuters (3/12)
11 March
Pollution and overfishing plague the Caspian Sea
The land-locked ocean can no longer sustain life in its waters, or at market where Iranian fishermen struggle to make ends meet
The United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organisation
reports that the haul of Caspian kutum (mahi sefid), one of the most common fish, decreased from the 1950s to the 1990s from 1,250 tonnes per year to 210.
Two main reasons have been given: overfishing and pollution. The Caspian Sea, shared between five countries – Iran, Russia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan – is in “critical condition” with oil tankers alone dumping over 120,000 tonnes of pollutants annually. Sewage from cities bordering the sea exacerbates pollution.
4 March
Did Benjamin Netanyahu Lie To Congress? 5 Fact-Checked Claims From The Speech
(HuffPost World) Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned in a controversial speech before the U.S. Congress on Tuesday that international negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program could imperil Israeli and international security.
22 February
Iranian official and Kerry attempt to narrow gaps in nuclear talks
As Mohammad Javad Zarif says US reliance on sanctions makes it ‘very hard, difficult to reach a settlement’, meetings resume in effort to reach agreement
[Six world powers – the United States, Germany, France, Britain, Russia and China – are trying to reach a framework agreement with Iran by the end of the month that would curb Tehran’s most sensitive nuclear activities for at least 10 years in exchange for the gradual easing of some sanctions. The parties have set a June 30 deadline to finalize an accord.]


22 December
Budget pressure unlikely to deflect Iran from nuclear goals
(Reuters) – A big oil price slide will hurt Iran’s attempts to rescue battered living standards, but economic pain is unlikely to soften its stance in nuclear talks or end aid to allies such as Syria, matters seen by its ruling clerics as strategic priorities.
Economic misery due to sanctions and mismanagement has been a reality for years, and while social strains in the 76 million population are deep, the clerics will seek to contain them, say experts examining Iran’s budget plans for 2015.
The largest drop in oil prices since the 2008 financial crisis means more budget pressure for the OPEC member, already bereft of tens of billions of dollars in oil revenue due to Western sanctions and years of economic mismanagement.
And tougher economic times may spur Tehran’s determination to end a nuclear dispute and lift sanctions that isolate it from the global banking system and deter most foreign investors.
But significant changes in Iran’s regional strategy including its approach to any nuclear deal are unlikely
23 November
Iran Nuclear Deal This Week Would Be ‘Impossible’
(Reuters) – Iran, the United States and other world powers are all but certain to miss Monday’s deadline for negotiations to resolve a 12-year stand-off over Tehran’s atomic ambitions, forcing them to seek an extension, sources say.
The talks in Vienna could lead to a transformation of the Middle East, open the door to ending economic sanctions on Iran and start to bring a nation of 76 million people in from the cold after decades of hostility with the West. But sources confirmed on Sunday what officials close to the talks have been predicting privately for weeks: that a final deal is still too far off to hammer out by the deadline.
(nyt) In Iran Talks, U.S. Seeks to Prevent a Covert Weapon
Unstated during negotiations is the fear of a “sneakout,” the risk of a bomb being produced at an undetected facility, or built from fuel and components obtained from one of Iran’s few trading partners.
9 November
High-Level Talks Are Underway On Iran’s Nuclear Program
(AP) — The Obama administration is facing its last best chance to curb Iran’s nuclear program — not just to meet an end-of-the-month deadline for a deal, but also to seal one before skeptical Republicans who will control Congress next year are able to scuttle it.
Years of negotiations to limit Tehran’s nuclear production entered the final stretch Sunday as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and European Union senior adviser Catherine Ashton in Oman’s capital. With no immediate agreement in sight, officials said the discussions were expected to continue into Monday.
The stakes are high as the Nov. 24 deadline approaches. A deal could quell Mideast fears about Iran’s ability to build a nuclear bomb and help revive the Islamic Republic’s economy.
13 October
Iran’s president says nuclear deal with West ‘certain’
(Reuters) – Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Monday a nuclear deal with the West was bound to happen and he believed it could be achieved by a November 24 deadline.
“We have reached consensus on generalities and there are only the fine details to be worked out: whether we would reach an agreement within the next 40 days, if the time will be extended, etc.,” the president told his people in a late evening address broadcast live on television.
“Of course details are important too, but what’s important is that the nuclear issue is irreversible. I think a final settlement can be achieved in these remaining 40 days. We will not return to the situation a year ago. The world is tired and wants it to end, resolved through negotiations,” he said.
“A nuclear settlement is certain,” he said, vowing to “apply all our efforts in that direction.
(BBC) How IS conflict has changed Iran nuclear talks
8 October
Nothing is simple in the Middle East!
Why Iran, U.S. aren’t on quite the same side in fight against Islamic State
Iran is concerned that the new coalition formed between the United States and Arab states like Saudi, Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Kuwait against Islamic State may lead to the eventual downfall of the Assad regime and the destruction of the Shi’ite crescent by further strengthening the position of moderate anti-Assad groups like the Free Syrian Army.
In order to prevent the realization of this strategic objective, the Iranian government –which is not part of the coalition — continues in parallel to bring about the dismantlement and destruction of Islamic State.
Iran strongly believes that the security of the region is commensurate to the interest of the countries of the region and the interest of the Shi’ite minorities.
20 August
What Iran Wants in 2014
Hassan Rouhani, President of the Islamic Republic of Iran
As we showed in 2013, Iran is fully prepared to engage seriously with the international community and to negotiate with our interlocutors in good faith. We hope that our counterparts, too, are ready to take advantage of this window of opportunity.
Iran’s parliament dismisses Science Minister Faraji-Dana
(BBC) Iran’s parliament has voted to dismiss the science minister, dealing a blow to reformist President Hassan Rouhani. … Conservatives had been angered by his decision to let students expelled from university after the anti-government unrest in 2009 return to campus. … Mr Faraji-Dana was also accused of nominating for senior department positions people who were involved in the mass opposition protests that followed the disputed re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2009.
Critics said he had tolerated student publications that questioned Islamic teachings and promoted sedition and riots. …
In a speech on state TV, [President Rouhani] praised the work of Mr Faraji-Dana, whom he described as a “polite and knowledgeable minister”, but said he would comply with the result of Wednesday’s vote to preserve national unity.
3 July
Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif waits to begin talks in ViennaExclusive: Iran eases demands for nuclear capacity at Vienna talks: Western diplomat
(Reuters) – Iran has reduced demands for the size of its future nuclear enrichment program in talks with world powers although Western governments are urging Tehran to compromise further, Western diplomats close to the negotiations said on Thursday.
The diplomats, who spoke to Reuters at the start of a two-week round of negotiations between Iran and the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China, said that despite some movement from Tehran it would not be easy to clinch a deal by their self-imposed deadline for a deal of July 20.
Tehran’s shift relates to the main sticking point in the talks – the number of uranium enrichment centrifuges Iran will maintain if a deal is reached to curb its nuclear program in exchange for a gradual end of sanctions. Ending the decade-long dispute over Iran’s nuclear ambitions is seen as instrumental to defusing tension and averting a new Middle East war.
Javad Zarif: Iran’s Message: We Can Make History (video)
In the next three weeks, we have a unique opportunity to make history: To forge a comprehensive agreement over Iran’s nuclear energy program; and to end an unnecessary crisis that has distracted us from addressing together our common challenges, such as the horrifying events of past few weeks in Iraq.
U.N. urges Iran nuclear talks to include human rights
(Reuters) – Talks between Iran and six world powers aimed at clinching a deal on Iran’s contested nuclear program should include human rights concerns, the U.N. human rights chief said on Thursday. U.N. Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said the United Nations was especially worried about executions in Iran, including the planned execution of a woman convicted of murdering her husband at the age of 17.
26 May
Iranian hackers use fake Facebook accounts to spy on U.S., others
(Reuters) – In an unprecedented, three-year cyber espionage campaign, Iranian hackers created false social networking accounts and a bogus news website to spy on military and political leaders in the United States, Israel and other countries, a cyber intelligence firm said on Thursday.
ISight Partners, which uncovered the operation, said the targets include a four-star U.S. Navy admiral, U.S. lawmakers and ambassadors, and personnel from Afghanistan, Britain, Iraq, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Syria.
17 May
Jeffrey Simpson: The Iran you won’t hear about from Ottawa
… The group spent 10 days in Iran, visiting Tehran, Qom, Isfahan and Shiraz, meeting with two senior ayatollahs, business people, students, the chamber of commerce, diplomats. Obviously they didn’t meet the Revolutionary Guards or secret police, very nasty parts of the regime, but they did meet a senior adviser to the country’s new President, Hassan Rouhani.
Mr. DeFehr’s impressions are fascinating reading, radically different from the black-and-white reporting in parts of the Western media and the bombastic demonization of the country by Canada’s government. The latter was epitomized by Foreign Minister John Baird’s appalling speech this week to the American Jewish Congress, where he called Iran the “biggest threat to global peace.” (The minister might have noticed that a recent world survey by the Anti-Defamation League found Iranians to be the least anti-Semitic people in the Middle East.)
Some of Mr. DeFehr’s impressions:
The country is serious about a nuclear deal and optimistic about the outcome of negotiations to restrict Iran’s nuclear programs – as is U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
The new government is very different from its predecessors. It is moderate and wants better relations with the West. Iranians do not trust Russia. Iran wants to be respected. Pakistan is a serious security threat. “Arabs” are natural adversaries. (Iranians are Persians, after all.)
Iran has immense human capital. Literacy rates are very high – 98 per cent among youth. More than four million students are at post-secondary institutions. Millions of educated Iranians have left the country, and many continue to leave because they dislike theocratic elements of the regime.
Women are subject to certain dress restrictions, which they disregard at home and sometimes interpret creatively in public. Women work in almost all institutions. They drive cars and practice professions. Three
women are ayatollahs. Is Iran heaven on earth for women? No. Is it like Saudi Arabia? No.
14 May
Turning History on its Head, Iran’s Supreme Leader Calls Israel a ‘Fabricated’ Nation
( – Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Wednesday lashed out at the U.S. for supporting Israel – which he labeled a “terrorist” state – and charged that the modern-day state of Israel established in 1948 was a “fake nation” made up of people from Europe and America.
In a series of Twitter messages marking the so-called “Naqba” (“catastrophe”) – the Palestinian view of the anniversary of the establishment of the state of Israel 66 years ago – Khamenei repeatedly used the term “fake” to describe Israel:
10 May
Hardline anxiety over Rouhani grows more acute
(BBC) With the negotiations on a comprehensive nuclear deal reconvening next Tuesday in Vienna, a vocal minority of hardliners have turned up the heat on President Hassan Rouhani and his nuclear team, regarding them as too soft. Last weekend, the president’s opponents gathered at a meeting they called “We’re Worried”. They voiced their concerns that the government was surrendering its rights to the West out of desperation for a deal to secure extensive sanctions relief.
30 January
urmiya_lake_310813_14Its Great Lake Shriveled, Iran Confronts Crisis of Water Supply
(NYT) After driving for 15 minutes over the bottom of what was once Iran’s largest lake, a local environmental official stepped out of his truck, pushed his hands deep into his pockets and silently wandered into the great dry plain, as if searching for water he knew he would never find. … According to figures compiled by the local environmental office, only 5 percent of the water remains. …
Experts cite climate change, wasteful irrigation practices and the depletion of groundwater supplies as leading factors in the growing water shortage. In the case of Lake Urmia, they add the completion of a series of dams that choked off a major supply of fresh water flowing from the mountains that tower on either side of the lake. …
In recent decades, the amount of land dedicated to agriculture in the region, the country’s heartland, has tripled, with many farmers growing particularly thirsty crops like grapes and sugar beets,… about 90 percent of all the water that should end up in the lake is sprayed on fields.
20 January
West, Iran activate landmark nuclear deal
(Reuters) – Iran has halted its most sensitive nuclear activity under a preliminary deal with world powers, winning some relief from economic sanctions on Monday in a ground-breaking exchange that could ease the threat of new war in the Middle East.
The United States and European Union both announced they were suspending some trade restrictions against the OPEC oil producer after the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog confirmed that Iran had met its end of the November 24 agreement.
10 January
Exclusive: Iran, Russia negotiating big oil-for-goods deal
(Reuters) – Iran and Russia are negotiating an oil-for-goods swap worth $1.5 billion a month that would enable Iran to lift oil exports substantially, undermining Western sanctions that helped persuade Tehran in November to agree to a preliminary deal to curb its nuclear program.

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