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.

  • 2 August 2013
  • Posted By NIAC
  • 4 Comments
  • Congress, Sanctions

Thank the 20 Lawmakers Who Stood Up to the War Lobby

On Wednesday, House leadership ignored the Iranian peoples’ call for change and moderation and voted for new punishing sanctions on the Iranian people.

But twenty lawmakers showed courage and leadership by voting no, inviting attacks from the pro-war lobby.  Other representatives who share their views were unwilling to take that risk.  Those twenty representatives need to know that those who oppose war and unending sanctions appreciate their stand, and that we have their back.

Will you sign the petition thanking them for standing up for peace and diplomacy with Iran?

 

Thank the 20 Lawmakers Who Stood Up to the War Lobby

Dear Representatives,

As someone who strongly opposes war between the U.S. and Iran, I thank you for your leadership in standing against new Iran sanctions that undermine diplomacy and punish ordinary Iranians. The courage you showed in standing up for new approach between the U.S. and Iran is precisely what has been lacking in the relationship between the two countries. I commend you and hope you will continue to work with your colleagues to build momentum toward a positive resolution of the U.S.-Iran standoff.

Thank you,

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Learn more about the vote and see the list of lawmakers below and watch the sanctions floor debate here:

  • 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.

  • 21 June 2013
  • Posted By Layla Oghabian
  • 0 Comments
  • Nuclear file

Does Iran’s president play a role in nuclear diplomacy?

With the new president elect Hassan Rouhani and his strong background in nuclear negations, many Iranians are hopeful that US-Iranian relations will take a turn for the better. As part of the pragmatic faction of Iran, which seeks to improve contact with the West, Rouhani claims he will work to bring Iran out of international isolation.

However, a major narrative among analysts and elected officials who have dismissed the election is that the Iranian president is merely a lap dog for the Supreme Leader and things will not change because Ali Khamenei holds the nuclear file.

Ray Takeyh, a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and adjunct professor at Georgetown University, disagrees:

“The Presidents have had enormous impacts on Iran’s nuclear calculations and I would suggest between the years 2003 to 2010 some of the most important initiatives on the nuclear issue were actually initiatives of the Presidential office. The decision in 2003 to suspend the enrichment program was a Presidential initiative that the Supreme Leader agreed to. The decision in 2005 to resume enrichment was a Presidential decision–candidate Ahmadinejad had campaigned on it, obviously the Supreme Leader agreed to that. And much of the initiatives that we saw over the past couple of years including the Turkey-Brazil deal were the initiatives of the President that the Supreme Leader sometimes agreed to, or sometimes didn’t, but he went along with it.”

Speaking at a JINSA panel last week, Takeyh asserted the notion that the “role of the Iranian President is extraneous is flawed.” If Takeyh is correct, the new president-elect Rouhani will indeed play a major role in nuclear deliberations and will have his initiative, as have  previous presidents of Iran.

  • 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.

  • 22 April 2013
  • Posted By Sina Toossi
  • 0 Comments
  • Congress, Diplomacy, Sanctions

Nuclear fishing boats and further proof that Congress is losing it on Iran

It is no secret that some of the most hawkish U.S. policies and positions towards Iran over its disputed nuclear program have come not from the Executive branch, but from Congress. Spurred on by AIPAC and other powerful pro-war lobbies and organizations, Congress has become a cesspool for blatant and often bizarre war-mongering Iran resolutions. Indeed, bills currently in circulation in congressional committees seek to do everything from removing waiver authority for sanctions on Iran; requiring that nuclear sanctions can’t be lifted until Iran becomes a democracy; goading Israel to start war with Iran and promising U.S. money and troops to do it; sanctioning anybody who engages in ANY form of trade with Iran (including humanitarian trade); and even  removing Iran from the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (a treaty that obligates Iran to not build nuclear weapons).

Now, if you are wondering why Congress has been pursuing such counterproductive and overly aggressive policies towards Iran, you have to look no further than some of the people Congress is getting their Iran related information from.

At a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing a few weeks ago that in large part dealt with Iran, the several so-called experts called upon to inform our congressional representatives bordered on flat out deception in their testimonies to members of Congress.

Former CIA director R. James Woolsey, one of the panelists at the hearing, stated that Iran could assemble something that “passed for a nuclear weapon within a matter of very few months.” Now, Woolsey is certainly in a position to know the facts regarding Iran’s nuclear program. Namely, that Iran is not currently developing a nuclear weapon, does not have any uranium enriched to weapons grade levels (that producing a bomb would require a significant quantity of), and that even if it did decide to suddenly break out towards building the bomb, this would become immediately evident to both IAEA inspectors and to Western intelligence agencies. All of this has been corroborated numerous times by US and Israeli intelligence, and even in the latest testimonies of the US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.

Needless to say, Woolsey is evidently not concerned with portraying a realistic and grounded picture of Iran’s nuclear program to Congress. He goes on to play the fear card by making several outlandish comments about how Iran’s putting of a satellite into space presents a risk to U.S. national security in terms of Iran eventually being able to explode a bomb in sub-orbit. Woolsey stated that such an explosion would have an “extremely strong decisive impact on the eclectic grid.”  He then recommended that the U.S. “get busy shielding [its] electric grid.”

Woolsey went onto to make his most brazen claim–that Iran could nuke the U.S. from a fishing boat. He acknowledged that  Iran does not currently possess a delivery system for a nuclear weapon, nothing would stop an Iranian “scud in freighter” coming within a few hundred miles of the east coast and shooting a nuclear missile towards the United States. “We need a missile system that can catch it,” Woolsey said, “If an Iranian fishing boat did this, we can do nothing unless we have these systems.” So, the lesson he is giving Congress here is to spend billions of dollars on some sort of defense system that guards again Iranian missiles being launched from fishing boats of the east coast.

Unfortunately, hyping up fictitious threats was not where this hearing ended. In his questioning of the panelists, Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, a member of the Committee of Foreign Affairs, stressed to the panel that the U.S. has not done enough to support the people in Iran. He specifically highlighted the Azeri, Baluch, and Turkmen ethnic groups within the country. Woolsey took up the honor of answering Rohrabacher’s plea for essentially supporting ethnic separatism inside Iran.

“We need to show people and let people know what side we are on in respect to Iran,” he said. “But in terms using economic power, using embargoes, using sanctions, taking gloves off completely in respect to those, doing everything we can to bring down their economy. I think that’s something we can at least make a very good effort at, and could use as part of the rallying cry for the American people and the people who have oppressed by Iran.”

Simply stated, the logic here is outstanding: Woolsey  thinks that by effectively destroying the financial livelihoods of people in Iran, the Iranian people will come to understand that we are on their side. This is when all the reporting and polling coming out of Iran is increasingly suggesting that the once friendly to America sentiment in the nation is eroding as a result of our policies towards the country.

Henry D. Sokolski, the executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, topped off this committee hearing by telling members of Congress to avoid “conceding per-say rights to these and other states.”

“I believe our government and most our allies have gotten into the lazy habit of portraying the nuclear nonproliferation treaty (NPT) as a deal, that demands and supplies 3 things equally, nonproliferation safeguards, disarmaments, and the sharing of peaceful nuclear technology. This breezy three point NPT pitch, although popular, I think lacks historical or legal substance, it also I think, defies common sense,” Sokolski said.

The NPT is essentially the only legal document that Iran is signed onto that obligates it to not develop a nuclear weapon. Thus far, Iran’s nuclear program has operated under the framework of the NPT. Efforts to remove or provoke Iran to remove itself from the NPT will surely results in exactly what the West does not want, Iran actively going after a nuclear bomb. It is important to note that other states which have developed nuclear weapons, such as Pakistan, India, and Israel, are not signatories of the NPT.

The situation in Congress has certainly reached a fever pitch in regards to Iran. There is little reason to doubt that if many members of Congress could have had their way, a disastrous war with Iran would have begun a long time ago. Now, just as negotiations are showing signs of hope, Congress is seemingly doing all it can to derail them. While they are clearly heavily influenced by agenda-driven lobbies and individuals, it is important that they hear the voice of the majority of the American people, which have long been against war with Iran and for negotiations.

  • 19 March 2013
  • Posted By Sina Toossi
  • 0 Comments
  • Diplomacy, US-Iran War

Pew’s False Choice Survey on Iran War

A recent national survey by the Pew Research Center included a question about the use of military action against Iran that distorts rather than reveals what people are thinking when it comes to the potential for war.

The question was posed as what the respondent deems more important: to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons even if means taking military action; to avoid military conflict even if Iran may develop nuclear weapons; or other/don’t know.

Within this framework, 64% of respondents said it is more important to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons even if this means taking military action against the country. Only 25% of respondents responded to this question by saying that it is more important to avoid a military conflict even if Iran may develop nuclear weapons.

The framing of this question–with respondents given a choice between two extremes of taking military action to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons to not taking military action even if Iran develops a nuclear weapon–is a false choice.

First, the fact is that according to the IAEA and U.S. intelligence, Iran is not currently developing nuclear weapons. If they stay on this course, they will never have a nuclear weapon because building a weapon requires they make a political decision to actually do so. There are of course concerns they will make that decision, and this–rather then whether or not we decide to bomb–is what the entire debate is hinged on. And the way to convince Iran to not make that decision, and to take verifiable steps to prove it, we need to be engaging diplomatically.

When presented with the diplomatic option, Americans overwhelmingly support it. An October 2012 poll asked respondents if they supported the UN Security Council continuing diplomatic efforts to get Iran to stop enriching uranium. The vast majority of those surveyed responded in the affirmative, with 79% of Republicans, 84% of Democrats, and 77% of Independents all saying “Yes”.

Furthermore, this question provides an inaccurate or incomplete representation of the two choices it does provide. Many former government and military officials actually believe that, while Iran is not developing nuclear weapons now, a military strike would actually push them to do so. According to former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, “An attack would make a nuclear armed Iran inevitable. They would just bury the program deeper and make it more covert.” Former Director of the CIA Michael Hayden has echoed Gates, “[Bombing Iran] will actually push them to getting nuclear weapons.” So the notion that military action means Iran doesn’t get the bomb is actually contrary to what the military crowd is actually saying.

It is clear that ten years after the Iraq war, there is still a lot of misinformation about certain Middle Eastern countries and their supposed pursuit of “weapons of mass destruction.” The false choices and inaccurate representation embodied in the recent Pew Research Survey reflects this culture of misinformation, and can easily be used to nefarious ends such as pushing for war based on public support for it.

  • 15 March 2013
  • Posted By Sina Toossi
  • 0 Comments
  • US-Iran War

10 years later, is Iran replacing Iraq?

“There is no question whatsoever that [blank] is seeking and is working and is advancing towards the development of nuclear weapons — no question whatsoever. And there is no question that once he acquires it, history shifts immediately.”

If you automatically substituted in Iran for the blank here, you certainly cannot be blamed. The “no question about it” confidence and overly alarmist tone that underpins this quote embodies much of the rhetoric proliferated today in regards to Iran’s nuclear program. Furthermore, this quote even comes from perhaps the biggest purveyor of portraying the Iranian nuclear program in such terms, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu. However, this is not from a speech Netanyahu made in 2013, but from one in 2002, and the blank here is not Iran, but Saddam Hussein.

On this tenth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, it is apt to review the frighteningly numerous parallels between the run up to that war and the current standoff with Iran. As the above quote demonstrates, many of the same people who warned so insistently about the “threat” from Iraq ten years ago are now warning just as insistently about the “threat” from Iran. In Netanyahu’s case, he has frequently been caught repeating verbatim the same things he said about Iraq over a decade ago about Iran today.

  • 11 March 2013
  • Posted By Sina Toossi
  • 0 Comments
  • Diplomacy, Sanctions, US-Iran War

NYT Slams AIPAC Resolutions

Two recent measures introduced in Congress received some pretty harsh criticism from the New York Times this past weekend.  The first resolution, introduced in the Senate by Democratic Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Robert Menendez and Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, would essentially open a backdoor to war with Iran by pushing Israel to start it. The other bill will sharply ratchet up already tough sanctions imposed on Iran.

In a significant move, the New York Times ran an editorial article slamming the bills as harmful to ongoing negotiations and as making war more likely. “Last week, just as Iran and the major powers made some small progress in talks and agreed to meet again, two measures were introduced in Congress that could harm negotiations,” said the New York Times. “It could also hamper negotiations by playing into Iranian fears that America’s true intention is to promote regime change. “

It remains to be seen if this unique criticism from the New York Times will have any effect on Congress. Especially since, as the editorial notes, these bills are being promoted by AIPAC. Regardless, by taking on Congress’ latest Iran hijinks, the NYT is saying to Congress what NIAC has been saying for years: that ratcheting up sanctions and upping the war rhetoric, our elected officials in Washington are closing off political space for the Obama Administration to conduct serious diplomacy, and thereby making war more likely. The NYT piece ended with a stark message,” The best way to avert military conflict is by negotiating a credible, verifiable agreement. It is a very long shot. But Congress needs to give the talks time to play out and not make diplomatic efforts even harder.”

  • 26 February 2013
  • Posted By Sina Toossi
  • 0 Comments
  • Diplomacy

Almaty and Prospects for Iran Negotiations

Initial reports out of the on-going P5+1 negotiations with Iran in Almaty, Kazakhstan suggest optimism on behalf of diplomats and hints of concessions by both sides. The first day of talks concluded with Western diplomats presenting Iran with what they say is a “real, serious, and substantive” proposal that creates a pathway towards sanctions relief. Recognition of Iran’s right to enrich uranium was alluded to as something that can in time be reached after a series of higher “technical-experts” level meetings. Likewise, Iranian diplomats have signaled their desire for a step by step based proposal.

The Iranians are coming to Almaty with their own proposal that they say is flexible. “Our proposal includes a wide range of options. Depending on what we hear from the other side, we will present a suitable version of our proposal. But anyways, Iran is presenting a new proposal,” an Iranian diplomat in Almaty has said.

pertinent report released yesterday by the International Crisis Group outlines steps that can be taken to resolve the impasse with Iran. The report, entitled “Spider Web: The Making and Unmaking of Iran Sanctions,” gives point-by-point recommendations on how negotiations can proceed while also analyzing the efficacy and consequences of the sanctions that have been imposed on Iran. In its recommendations for how negotiations should proceed, the report highlights the need for “intensive, continuous, technical-level negotiations to achieve a step by-step agreement.” It states that in order to sustain diplomacy, Iran’s right to enrichment on its own soil should be recognized, while Iran should give stronger guarantees as to not weaponizing its nuclear program. Successful negotiation strategy should be principled, the report states, on an understanding that “the real measure of efficacy is not sanctions imposition. It is sanctions relief.”