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Events in Iran

  • 23 September 2013
  • Posted By Bharat Vasudevan
  • 0 Comments
  • Diplomacy, Events in Iran, Iran Election 2013, US-Iran War

Iran and the Unthinkable

At a forum at the Brookings institution on Monday, September 16, Kenneth Pollack discussed his new book, “Unthinkable” with Robin Wright, addressing prospects for Iran’s nuclear program, Israeli security, and American strategy. The book, mostly written before the election of Rouhani, focuses primarily on the question of what to do if diplomacy fails to dissuade Iran from pursuing a nuclear weapon.  At such a juncture, the United States would be forced to choose between military strikes aimed at destroying Iran’s nuclear program or containment of a nuclear-armed Iran. “When I weigh the costs and risks”, Pollack asserts, “the costs and risks of containment are more bearable and more practical than the costs and risks if we do military strikes.”

Given that one of Pollacks previous books, “The Threatening Storm,” helped build the case for the invasion of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, Pollack is considered somewhat of a unique messenger to push back against military options against Iran.

Pollack argued that diplomacy is the far superior choice for preventing a nuclear-armed Iran. However, he identified two major reasons to be skeptical about the prospects for a diplomatic solution. First, hardliners in Iran could block Iran’s new President, Hassan Rouhani, from obtaining a nuclear deal. Second, America has overwhelmingly relied on sticks over carrots in diplomatic negotiations. The only carrot the Obama administration has offered is to “stop using sticks.” Without a significant carrot for Rouhani to sell a nuclear deal as a win, a deal cannot be achieved. More significant concessions need to be put on the table.

However, if diplomacy fails, Pollack asserted that containment would be far more prudent than military action.  Strikes would be costly and would only, at best, delay Iran’s nuclear program and increase the likelihood that they pursue one. Meanwhile, containment carries far fewer risks – the United States has, in essence, been doing it since 1979 by limiting Iran’s influence and power through isolation and ensuring that the costs of military escalation are too high.  If Iran obtains a nuclear weapon, additional steps would be needed to shore up regional allies and prevent further proliferation. The United States would also need to prevent perverse incentives for nuclear escalation from emerging, as happened during the Cold War when hawks on both sides pushed for first strikes to knock out their adversary’s nuclear arsenal.

According to Pollack, Iran would continue to demonstrate rational behavior if it obtains a nuclear weapon, meaning that Iran could be deterred from using them. Contrasted with Pakistan, which became more aggressive after gaining the bomb, and Israel, which showed more restraint, Iran would largely behave the same way. Despite support for groups including Hezbollah, Iran has never toppled foreign governments.  Further, Iran is in a weak state given the impact of sanctions on its economy and currently has few reliable allies: Hamas has turned away from Iran and Syria is embroiled in a civil war.

Israel has a military option as well, but Pollack asserted that it is not a good one.  Israel could attempt to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities, as it did in Iraq in 1981 and Syria in 2007. However, neither America nor Israel would prefer such an option. Israel, which typically pursues a military option when it is viable, has proven that it wants to leave military strikes to the United States by debating the option publicly for the last fifteen years.

The House Gets Bad Advice

When it comes to crafting law, Congress seeks input from outside experts to help inform and guide their decisionmaking. The type of experts the body seeks out can say a lot about why Congress does what it does. Last Wednesday, the House Foreign Affairs Committee invited some particularly revealing “expert witnesses” that say a lot about the body’s priorities.

The Middle East Subcommittee held a hearing on the “Iran-Syria Nexus and its Implications for the Region,” featuring Mark Dubowitz, the Executive Director of the Foundation of Defense and Democracies (FDD), a major pro-sanctions lobby that has  been in the spotlight thanks financial filings that indicate it is primarily sponsored by far-right wing millionaires like Sheldon Adelson. Also testifying was John Bolton, a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute who has called for the U.S. to bomb Iran for years now, going back to his days as UN Ambassador under the Bush Administration.

Dubowitz and Bolton, both representing the neo-conservative hawks in Washington, urged the Members of Congress in attendance to escalate sanctions, dismiss negotiations, and carry out preventative war on Iran.

Dubowitz called for “massively intensifying sanctions on Iran to bring it to the verge of economic collapse.” According to him, Washington was not doing enough to send the message to the Supreme Leader that the U.S. means business. He claimed that the U.S. has been granting sanctions relief to Iran through its “unwillingness to entertain new sanctions [and] non-enforcement of existing sanctions.”

Bolton sided with Dubowitz but added that negotiations with Iran are worthless and that the U.S. should ultimately aim for regime change within Iran. As predicted, Bolton argued yet again that the “only option is a pre-emptive military strike against Iran’s nuclear program.”

Rouhani Raises Hopes for Diplomacy at First News Conference as President

By Samira Damavandi and Caroline Cohn

At his first press conference as Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani indicated his willingness to reengage in diplomatic talks with the West, raising hopes for finding a solution to the current standoff over Iran’s nuclear program.

Rouhani replaced outgoing President Ahmadinejad, whose bellicose anti-U.S. and anti-Israel rhetoric only exacerbated the already tense relationship between the U.S. and Iran. The election of Rouhani, a centrist candidate who pledged “constructive interaction” with the world, was a rare positive sign for a potential easing of tensions between the two estranged nations.

Of Rouhani’s news conference on Tuesday, the Washington Post noted that  “It was certainly a remarkable tonal departure from Ahmadinejad, with lots of talk about compromising with the West.” As Rouhani fielded questions from the media – which included reporters from both inside and outside of Iran, including the U.S. – he made several positive remarks indicating his plans for steering Iranian foreign and domestic policy in a more conciliatory direction.

Diplomacy

In response to several questions about his plans for renewing nuclear negotiations, many posed by Western news correspondents, Rouhani reaffirmed his plans to pursue a more diplomatic approach to foreign policy, starkly opposite from the approach of his predecessor.  “As I have said earlier, our main policy will be to have constructive interaction with the world,” said Rouhani.

  • 10 July 2013
  • Posted By Layla Oghabian
  • 0 Comments
  • Congress, Diplomacy, Events in Iran, Iran Election 2013, Sanctions

Escalating Iran Sanctions Could Damage Hopes for New Beginning

On Monday, July 1 new Executive and Congressional sanctions on Iran, put in place before Iran’s recent elections, came into force. These new sanctions target the shipping and automobile sectors, financial transactions involving gold, and holdings of Iran’s currency, the rial. These latest sanctions come amid a growing debate over whether sanctions could undermine diplomatic opportunities and moderates within Iran in the wake of Iran’s recent elections. However, there is little sign that the sanctions will abate, with the House of Representatives considering a floor vote on new, sweeping sanctions in the weeks before Iran’s President-elect, Hassan Rouhani, even enters office.

Rouhani’s ability to deliver and change the policies of the Iranian government remains a question mark. During his campaign, the former nuclear negotiator pledged to “pursue a policy of reconciliation and peace” with the outside world, release political prisoners, and potentially to make Iran’s nuclear program more transparent in order to ease tensions with the West.  But his political flexibility may be limited in the face of intensifying economic pressure and fear that the United States is only interested in regime change.

  • 20 May 2013
  • Posted By Conor Hughes
  • 0 Comments
  • Events in Iran, Presidential Election, Uncategorized

When a Shark Stirs the Water for Iran’s Presidential Hopefuls

With the Guardian Council set to announce the final list of Iranian presidential candidates on Tuesday, after vetting a staggering amount of  hopefuls (686 to be exact), a few contenders have been making some prominent headway.

Prior to the registration deadline it seemed as if many Iranian voters were going to sit out these elections due to a lack of reformist candidates. Yet in the final minutes of the deadline, former president, and supposed reformist candidate Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani–referred to by some as “the Shark”–entered the fray. To add to the strange mix of events, President Ahmadinejad accompanied his right hand man, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei at the last minute as well.

In the conservative camp, the so called 2+1 coalition made up of International Affairs advisor to the Supreme Leader, Ali Akbar Velayeti, Tehran mayor Mohammad-Bagher Ghalibaf, and former parliament Speaker Gholam-Ali Haddad Adel have all thrown their weight in the mix.

What does all this mean for the June 14th election? For one thing, this truly shows that the Islamic Republic has domestic politics where contenders are vying for support in different camps. As one local Iranian analyst put it, “Conservatives had been very comfortable with their prospects before Rafsanjani entered the race,” yet now, “they face a major challenge, since they know his presence will attract voters to the ballot box, and likely not in their favor.”

Second, this election cycle is shaping up to be as contentious as ever, which is not what the Iranian leadership would have hoped for this time around.  Principlists have been highly critical of  Mashaei for his “deviant” view of Islam, and quick to discredit Rafsanjani for his support of the 2009 Green Movement. Some have even made claims that the 78-year-old Rafsanjani should be barred from the presidency on the count that he is too old to lead the country.

Yet even if Rafsanjani clears the vetting process, any president’s policies is going to be constrained by the Supreme leader’s ultimate approval, as well as an economic system in pieces from sanctions and government mismanagement. As the conservatives attempt to unify their candidates to one representative, it will be interesting to see if the Guardian Council approves of Rafsanjani’s bid, and if they do, will reformists rally around Rafsanjani or another candidate entirely.

  • 10 September 2012
  • Posted By Joseph Chmielewski
  • 0 Comments
  • Events in Iran, Human Rights in Iran

Iranian pastor accused of apostasy is released

Yousef Nadarkhani, the Iranian Christian pastor who was sentenced to death after being found guilty of apostasy, has been released from prison after tireless work by his lawyers and an international outcry regarding his situation.

Early in his life, Nadarkhani abandoned his Islamic faith and by age 19  officially converted to Christianity and shortly thereafter began his work as a pastor. In 2006, Nadarkhani began to protest the mandatory enrollment of his children in Quran classes at school. He was immediately imprisoned on charges of protesting. A few months into his sentence, his charge was changed to apostasy, the abandonment of one’s religion.

Nadarkhani was brought before a court in 2010 and given the death penalty. He was to be executed by hanging. His lawyers appealed the verdict, but a court in the city of Qom upheld the original sentence. But September 8, 2012, the apostasy charge was downgraded to evangelizing Muslims, the penalty for which was three years. Given that Nadarkhani had already served about six years in prison, he was released from a facility in Lakan, Iran.

Reaction from the international community regarding Nadarkhani’s plight had been strong, outspoken and unrelenting. Iran’s constitution allows for the free practice of one’s own religion, and yet the courts were still permitted to convict Nadarkhani of apostasy. Such a clear violation of basic human rights garnered reaction from many groups, including NIAC.

  • 22 August 2012
  • Posted By Lily Samimi
  • 0 Comments
  • Diplomacy, Events in Iran, Let's Talk Iran, Sanctions, US-Iran War

Congressman Kucinich Urges Obama to Suspend Sanctions

Last week, NIAC worked closely with Congressman Dennis Kucinich and 13 of his colleagues to advance a letter urging President Obama to suspend sanctions that prevent aid organizations from working in Iran and prevent Americans from sending charitable donations to earthquake victims — a step that was taken in 2003 when an earthquake struck the Iranian city Bam.

Yesterday, we had the extraordinary opportunity to talk with Congressman Dennis J. Kucinich (D-OH) after the Obama Administration announced a general license effectively suspending sanctions to allow humanitarian relief for 45 days.

Play
  • 13 July 2012
  • Posted By Milad Jokar
  • 4 Comments
  • discrimination, Events in Iran, Nuclear file, Sanctions

Why Iran’s Hardliners Love the iPhone and McDonalds Sanctions

Iran's Mash Donalds (Mash refers to Mashhadi or Mashtee--someone who has made the pilgrimage to the holy city of Mashhad)

If you’re an Iranian who wants to get the latest iPhone, iPad or Macbook, it may just be easier for you to purchase one in Iran than in the U.S.

Apple Store in Sa’dat Abad, Tehran

New pressures to “tighten the noose” on Iran through sanctions have indeed led to discrimination against Persian-speakers at Apple Stores.  One has to wonder how banning Iranians from having access to iPods on which they can listen to Rihanna’s latest hit (yes, Rihanna’s latest hit is available in Iran) will “change Iran’s behavior” concerning its uranium enrichment program.

But despite the sanctions and the draconian ways they’re being enforced, in Iran, iPhones are everywhere.  And the way they get to Iran, far from “squeezing the regime” actually benefits smugglers linked to the state and the IRGC (Revolutionary Guard).

To purchase the latest Apple products, Iranians just have to go to their local “Apple Store” in Iran. They can choose their items online or in person, and can definitely speak Farsi when purchasing an iPad without worrying about whether the salesperson will take their money.

Indeed, everything is available in Iran for a price. Many Iranians still walk down Africa Street, known as Jordan Street  before the revolution, in their Air Jordans, gel in their hair, while perusing DVDs of the latest Hollywood movies starring Will Smith, Matt Demon or Angelina Jolie on display by street vendors.

The Colonel in Iran serves "Kabaaby" Fried Chicken

U.S. sanctions also prohibit U.S. fast food companies from opening in Iran. It is unclear what is the logic of banning McDonalds in Iran and how denying Iranians the pleasures of true American junk food will stop Iran’s nuclear program.  And yet, while it’s always nice to enjoy a good khoreshte bamie or ghorme sabzi, Iranians can still skip rice and go to a good KFC (kabaaby Fried Chicken), Mash Donald’s (Mash refers to one who has made the pilgrimage to the holy city of Mashhad) or simply grab a coffee at Raees—featuring a mustachioed version of Starbucks mermaid—on Seoul Street in Tehran.

Because of sanctions, most of these stores are knockoffs. However, all the soft drinks, clothes,
phones and other electronic devices are authentic. These goods come into Iran through Dubai, Iraq, and the shores of the Persian Gulf, and supply the Iranian Bazaari (merchants and shop keepers) who sell these items openly in their stores.

  • 28 June 2012
  • Posted By Mohammad Esfahlani
  • 0 Comments
  • Events in Iran, Israel

Iran VP Rahimi’s Hard Times and Anti-Semitism

While anti-Zionist rhetoric from Tehran has become all too common, a recent speech by Iranian vice president Mohammad Reza Rahimi seems to have hit a new low.  Going far beyond traditional anti-Zionist rhetoric, Rahimi’s anti-Semitic speech actually accused the holy text of Judaism of being responsible for the spread of illicit drugs around the globe. Beyond being deplorable (see NIAC’s statement condemning it here), it’s also truly bizarre.  Which begs the question: what is the calculus, if any, behind such inflammatory rhetoric?

Mohammad Reza Rahimi became the Vice President in September 2009 after the Supreme Leader dismissed Ahmadinejad’s first choice with a rare published handwritten note. That pick, Esfandiar Mashaei, is controversial for many reasons, but it was statement that “Iranians are friends of Israelis” that created controversy amongst some of the most hard-line conservatives.

Rahimi and Mashaei—who is now Ahmadinejad’s Chief of Staff—have been under withering attack since they were accused of heading a group that embezzled about $3 billion dollars, the largest case of financial embezzlement in Iran’s history. This scandal has intensified their internal conflict with their conservative political rivals—parliament members and supporters of the supreme leader—to the extent that some hardliners have called for their execution. Furthermore, Ahmadinejad has been severely weakened since he dismissed the Iranian Intelligence chief and challenged the supreme leader’s decision for his reassignment, a battle which he ultimately lost.

  • 26 June 2012
  • Posted By NIAC
  • 0 Comments
  • Afghanistan, Diplomacy, Events in Iran, Israel, Sanctions, US-Iran War

Clinton and Baker on Iran, Israeli strikes, and diplomacy

In an interview with Charlie Rose at the State Department  last Wednesday, June 20, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Former Secretary of State James Baker discussed the role of diplomacy in resolving US- Iranian tensions [watch the interview here, read the transcript here].

Baker said the U.S. must pursue all non-military means to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapon, but if those efforts fail, the U.S. would have to “take them out.”   Clinton insisted that diplomatic options for dealing with Iran had not yet been exhausted, and warned that a foreign attack could unify and legitimize the regime. She said,  there are some hardliners in Iran who ” are saying the best thing that could happen to us is be attacked by somebody, just bring it on, because that would unify us, it would legitimize the regime.” Instead of giving the hardliners this credibility, Clinton said of the diplomatic process that the US should “take this meeting by meeting and pursue it as hard as we can” in order to find a peaceful agreement.