NDTV: US Ready to Risk Israel, Saudi Arabia Wrath to Seal Iran Deal

 

“Both the Israelis and the Saudis have indicated publicly they want the United States to go to war with Iran,” said Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council. “If there is a deal, there will not be a war, that’s why they are upset.”

 

 

 

Iran Nuclear Talks Media Advisory: NIAC Experts Available for Analysis

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact:Trita Parsi, President – 202.386.6325tparsi@niacouncil.org
Reza Marashi, Research Director – 202.379.1639rmarashi@niacouncil.org
Jamal Abdi, Policy Director – 202.386.6408jabdi@niacouncil.org

Washington, DC and Geneva – Experts from the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) will be available to media during and after nuclear negotiations between the United States, other members of the P5+1 and Iran in Geneva.

There are strong expectations that diplomats will strike a historic interim deal that would be a key step toward resolving the nuclear standoff. Now Congress must support rather than undercut U.S. negotiators. Despite President Obama’s call for Congress not to ratchet up sanctions yesterday, many in Congress are still pushing new sanctions that would undermine the President’s ability to strike a deal. 

NIAC analysts available in Washington, DC:

Jamal Abdi is the Policy Director for the National Iranian American Council (NIAC). He leads NIAC’s advocacy and education efforts in support of non-military solutions to the U.S.-Iran standoff, advancing human rights in Iran, and protecting civil rights in the U.S. on behalf of the Iranian-American community. He monitors U.S. Government policy and is in close contact with the Administration and Congress. He formerly served as Policy Advisor on foreign affairs, immigration, and defense issues in the U.S. Congress. Abdi has written for The New York TimesCNNForeign PolicyThe HillThe Progressive and Public Service Europe, and blogs at The Huffington Post.  He is a frequent guest contributer in print, radio, and television, including appearances on Al Jazeera, NPR, BBC News and RT America. Follow Jamal on Twitter: @jabdi 

Trita Parsi, PhD is the 2010 recipient of the Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order. He is the founder and president of the National Iranian American Council and an expert on US-Iranian relations, Iranian foreign politics, and the geopolitics of the Middle East. He is the author of Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Iran, Israel and the United States (Yale University Press 2007), for which he conducted more than 130 interviews with senior Israeli, Iranian and American decision-makers. Treacherous Alliance is the silver medal winner of the 2008 Arthur Ross Book Award from the Council on Foreign Relations.

Parsi’s new book A Single Roll of the Dice – Obama’s Diplomacy with Iran (Yale University Press) was released early 2012. He interviewed 70 high-ranking officials from the U.S., Iran, Europe, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Brazil—including the top American and Iranian negotiators—for this book. Parsi uncovers the previously unknown story of American and Iranian negotiations during Obama’s early years as president, the calculations behind the two nations’ dealings, and the real reasons for their current stalemate.

Parsi’s articles on Middle East affairs have been published in the Wall Street JournalNew York TimesLos Angeles TimesFinancial TimesJane’s Intelligence Review, the Nation,The American Conservative, the Jerusalem PostThe Forward, and others. He is a frequent guest on CNN, PBS’s Newshour with Jim Lehrer, NPR, the BBC, and Al Jazeera. Follow Trita on Twitter: @tparsi

NIAC analysts available in Geneva:

Reza Marashi is the Research Director for the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) and is on the ground for negotiations in Geneva.  He came to NIAC after four years in the Office of Iranian Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.  Prior to his tenure at the State Department, he was an analyst at the Institute for National Strategic Studies (INSS) covering China-Middle East issues, and a Tehran-based private strategic consultant on Iranian political and economic risk.  Marashi is frequently consulted by Western governments on Iran-related matters.  His articles have appeared in The New York TimesForeign PolicyThe Atlantic, and the National Interest, among other publications.  He has been a guest contributor to CNN, NPR, the BBC, TIME Magazine, The Washington Post, and the Financial Times, among other broadcast outlets.  Follow Reza on Twitter: @rezamarashi 

Recent NIAC publications and media appearances:

“Iran Talks: Do We Want a Deal or a War?” CNN, November 8, 2013

“Serious Progress and a Familiar Road Map at Iran Nuclear Talks,” Al Jazeera, October 16, 2013

“Pushing Peace: How Israel Can Help the United States Strike a Deal With Iran – And Why It Should,” Foreign Affairs, October 1, 2013

About NIAC

The National Iranian American Council (NIAC) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing the interests of the Iranian-American community. NIAC’s mission is focused on promoting an active and engaged Iranian-American community, supporting aspirations for human rights and democracy in Iran, opposing war between the US and Iran, and celebrating our community’s deep cultural heritage.  NIAC accomplishes its mission by supplying the resources, knowledge and tools to enable greater civic participation by Iranian Americans and informed decision-making by policymakers.

For more information, please visit niacouncil.org.

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Jacking up Iran Sanctions Would Kill Peace Talks

With nuclear negotiations set to resume on Thursday in Geneva between Iran, the United States and their negotiating partners, recent signs of progress have raised expectations for a breakthrough to long-stalled negotiations.  While the outcome of these negotiations is still uncertain, it appears that Iran is willing to curb its enrichment program and enhance transparency in exchange for sanctions relief.  Such a deal would alleviate international concerns regarding the intent of Iran’s nuclear program and forestall war.

However, it appears that many in the US Congress are determined to undermine the negotiations by pushing new sanctions forward.  Knowing that new Congressional sanctions could sabotage diplomacy, the administration has sent Vice President Biden, Secretary of State Kerry and Treasury Secretary Lew to Capitol Hill to warn Senators to hold off. As Wendy Sherman, America’s lead nuclear negotiator, has warned “we think that this is a time for a pause to see if these negotiations can gain traction.”

Ignoring the advice of our top diplomats and those privy to the negotiating process, Senator Kirk of Illinois has indicated that “now is a time to strengthen” sanctions. He is not alone. Senator Rubio of Florida has indicated that he would reject any agreement with Iran to suspend or cancel additional sanctions “unless they agree to abandon nuclear enrichment entirely.”

As well-intentioned as these Senators may be, their arguments are based on the false premise that sanctions and the threat of military force have convinced the Iranian regime to come to the table.  They, therefore, erroneously conclude that additional sanctions will force Iran to capitulate on its nuclear program.  However, the track record of sanctions belies that notion.  Despite a sanctions regime that has evolved over the last decade into what many consider the most severe sanctions ever imposed on a country, Iran has significantly increased both the quantity and the quality of its enrichment activities: starting with a few somewhat unsophisticated centrifuges in 2003, it now has at least 19,000 –including 1,000 of a more efficient, advanced design.

The argument that sanctions have forced Iran to the negotiating table ignores the Iranian regime’s motives for both its enrichment activities and its recent diplomatic engagement.

Despite its continuing nuclear progress, US and Israeli intelligence agencies assert that Iran’s leadership has not made a decision to weaponize its nuclear program.  Further, after three decades of enrichment activities, Iran has yet to produce a single kilowatt of nuclear-generated power.  Why has Iran pursued such a costly program?  The most likely answer is national pride.  Despite all of the sanctions, Iran has demonstrated its ability to master enrichment technology.  This resoluteness in asserting independence and national pride has trumped all other considerations, including the huge costs of the policy.  Had it not been for the growing discontent of the Iranian people following the disputed 2009 election and continuing regional strife, including the coup in Egypt, the Iranian regime would not have changed course.  Those events amounted to a wake-up call for the regime and forced it to move closer to the will of its people. 

Carefully calculating its moves, the regime chose not to interfere with the outcome of the presidential elections, allowing the more moderate Rouhani to assume power with a mandate to obtain sanctions relief through negotiations.  To the dismay of hardliners, the Supreme Leader has thrown his support behind Rouhani’s diplomatic engagement.  However, the hardliners are exacting a price for their impatient acquiescence, ramping up demonstrations on the anniversary of the hostage crisis and continuing to trample on Iranians’ human rights.

As soon as the West miscalculates, most likely in the form of new sanctions, the hardliners will be ready to pounce and shut the door to diplomacy, eliminating any off-ramps to war.  With consequences that would engulf the entire region, neither Iran, the US, Israel or Saudi Arabia can afford such an outcome.  The reform movement within Iran would also be dealt a crushing defeat from which it might never recover.

To avoid such a catastrophe, the US Congress needs to provide political space for negotiations.  Congress will have ample time to evaluate any possible agreements that emerge, but it should avoid making any provocative moves that the Iranian hardliners are hoping for.  While hardliners in Iran, Israel, Saudi Arabia and the US will do their usual hyperventilating, the adults in Congress must set a more moderate tone and steer the country away from a disastrous war.

Ali Fatemi is Professor and the past chairman of the Department of Finance at DePaul University.

(This article originally appeared in Chicago Sun-Times)

 

 

 

Nuclear Diplomacy with Iran and the Saudi and Israeli Perspective

Washington, DC – As negotiations restarted in Geneva over Iran’s nuclear program last week, a panel of former officials from Saudi Arabia, Israel, Iran and the U.S. convened at the 2013 NIAC Leadership Conference in Washington to examine the geopolitical implications. 

Prince Turki bin Faisal Al Saud joined the panel in what he said was his first address to an Iranian-American audience, giving attendees a rare direct insight into Saudi Arabia’s decision-making. The former Saudi ambassador to the U.S. and Director General of the country’s foreign intelligence service conveyed his admiration for Iran’s culture and history but expressed a skeptical view of ongoing nuclear talks with the Islamic Republic. Prince Turki argued that Iran has been competing provocatively with Saudi Arabia for leadership in the Islamic world since 1979 to attempt to create “an Iranian empire like no one had ever seen.”

Yossi Alpher, former advisor to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, echoed this point. The problems with Iran, he said, would not end with a nuclear deal because Iran has “hegemonic designs on the region.” Alpher and Turki pointed to Hezbollah’s violent campaigns in Syria and Lebanon as evidence of Iran’s continuing bid for regional hegemony. 

Shireen Hunter, professor at Georgetown University and former Iranian diplomat under Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, strongly objected to the notion of an Iranian quest for hegemony. She cautioned that identifying the Islamic Republic’s ambitions through a failed strategy espoused during its revolutionary period presented a misleading picture of Iran’s current outlook. “A bunch of barefoot Shiites in south Lebanon or a couple in Yemen are not what hegemonies are made of,” she said, arguing that even Hezbollah lacks the economic or military clout to achieve such an end. 

The real dynamic, Hunter said, is that the post-Cold War “bogeyman vacuum” created by the collapse of the Soviet Union has invited a larger narrative to make Iran out as the new “bogeyman.” She argued that other countries in the Middle East have reaped the benefits of Iran’s poor relations with the United States since the Islamic revolution. “When [Iran’s] role comes into play, [their] roles will diminish,” she said, due to Iran’s wealth of natural resources, geostrategic importance due to its location between the Caspian Sea and Persian Gulf, and its influence over the Strait of Hormuz. Accordingly, said Hunter, Israel and Saudi Arabia’s are reluctant to see Iran’s isolation end. 

Prince Turki

Turki stated, however, that Saudi Arabia welcomes diplomacy with Iran, despite its skepticism. He said that the real concern was that the current talks are limited to the permanent members of the UN Security Council (P5+1). He said that the negotiating parties should be expanded to a “P5+2” that includes the Gulf Cooperation Council. But in lieu of such a development, Turki said that Saudi Arabia prefers an alternative solution to the nuclear standoff in the form of a UN Security Council resolution requiring the Middle East to be a “zone free of weapons of mass destruction.” Such a resolution would be supported by security guarantees for signatories and enforced through “military sanctions” imposed by the Security Council. He demurred as to whether the Saudi position remains that Iran cannot have a civilian nuclear enrichment program—which Iran views as its right as a member of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

Alpher was asked whether Israel could support a proposal to rid the Middle East of weapons of mass destruction, given that Israel is the only state in the region with a nuclear arsenal. Alpher said the proposal was “intriguing” but could only be considered by Israel once “peace is established in the region.”

Dr. Aaron David Miller, an American analyst and negotiator who has advised six U.S. secretaries of state, warned that the panelists were getting ahead of themselves. He urged that “expectations be kept at a reasonable place” regarding any potential Iranian nuclear deal. With regard to the concerns of Saudi Arabia and Israel, he specified that the United States cannot leave an “an angry, aggrieved, uncertain, and risk-inclined Prime Minister of Israel” at the end of a nuclear deal with Iran and that the U.S. “has Saudi and Israeli equities in mind” during the nuclear negotiations. The results of nuclear negotiations, Miller said, would not likely provide “transformational” changes to U.S.-Iran relations or to the region because of the absence of “transformative leaders.”  

“Until you have the right kind of leaders—on our side as well, with our risk-averse President—the best you’re going to be able to be able to do on are transactional arrangements,” said Miller. “Forget the transformations—you want transformations, you’ll get nothing.”

Prince Turki expressed concern that due to Obama’s “recent actions, or lack of, on Syria, that Mr. Netanyahu may well decide to take things into his own hands and launch a preemptive strike against Iran.” Alpher assured him that Israel has “checks and balances” that would prevent Netanyahu from singularly ordering a military strike, and that “if something is agreed to in Geneva […] I dare say, Netanyahu will have no choice but to acquiesce.”

Photos: Sima Jafari

Shireen HunterCrowd

Alpher and Miller

 

 

 

JTA: Is a Common Fear of Iran driving Israel and Saudi Arabia together?

JTA: Is a Common Fear of Iran driving Israel and Saudi Arabia together?

By: Ron Kampeas (JTA)

 

“Israel is kept out particularly as far as Saudi Arabia is concerned because it’s keeping itself out,” Prince Turki bin Faisal al Saud, the Saudi ambassador to Washington from 2005 to 2007, said this week at the annual conference of the National Iranian American Council.

 

 

 

Transcript of Prince Turki bin Faisal Al Saud’s First Address to the Iranian American Community

On October 15, 2013, His Royal Highness Prince Turki bin Faisal Al Saud gave his first address to an Iranian American audience at the National Iranian American Council’s 2013 National Leadership Conference. Prince Turki served as the former Ambassador of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to the United States between 2005 and 2007, and as former Director General to the General Intelligence Directorate – Saudi Arabia’s primary foreign intelligence service – between 1977 and 2001. Prince Turki’s address to the Iranian American community came prior to a panel on Iran diplomacy and the geopolitics of the Middle East.

Prince Turki’s remarks are included below. The opinions expressed are his own.

“Iran Then and Now: Between Ancient History and Islamic Identity”

Ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you for inviting me to speak to you, today.

There is a tradition that states that the Prophet Muhammad, (PBUH), once gestured towards his Persian companion Salman and said,

“لو كان الإيمان عند الثريا لناله رجال من اهل فارس”

“Even if faith were near the Pleiades, men from among the Persians would attain it.”

This tradition points to a few fundamental truths about Persian history and identity. In the ancient world, the Pleiades constellation represented the universe’s beauty and mystery, and its distance in the sky was a reminder of the vastness of creation. In invoking the Pleiades, the Prophet (PBUH) was testifying to the power of the Persian’s faith – that there was no obstacle large or far enough to prevent the Persians from attainment of true knowledge.

We can also read this tradition as a testament to the Persian tradition of scientific and cultural achievement – that if anyone were able to grasp at the Pleiades, it would of course be the Persians. In the Prophet Muhammad’s time, Persia was a fading imperial power, holding on to the glories of its civilization as it prepared to embrace a new era. Even today, Iran is caught between pride in its ancient and complicated history and the ambitions of its religious regime.

In the pre-Islamic world, the Persian Sassanian Empire, the Persian Sassanian Empire, founded in 224 BC and extending from Turkey and Egypt to the Indian subcontinent, was a cultural and political force rivaling that of ancient China, India, Greece, or Rome. The Sassanians were envied by the Romans for their advanced military technology, Sassanian artists and musicians were welcomed by the royal courts of imperial capitals and the Sassanian government was widely praised for its humane and effective style of rule. The Persians of the ancient world could even lay claim to one of the world’s monotheistic religions: Zoroastrianism, a faith based on the teachings of Zoroaster, who lived over 3,000 years ago.

By the 7th century A.D. the golden age of the Sassanians had long since passed away. When Muslim Arabs arrived shortly after the death of the Prophet (PBUH), Persians came to accept Islam and adjust to life under Arab rule. The Persian language adopted its own version of the Arabic script and borrowed heavily from Arabic vocabulary. Ancient fire temples were converted into arched mosques with beautiful, serene courtyards. The Persians of greater Iran adopted the political ideals represented by the Islamic caliphate and became participants in another Golden Age, one with far more geographic breadth and cultural diversity than the Persian kingdoms of ancient times.

During the medieval flowering of Islamic civilization, Persian people and Persian culture helped raise the Islamic World to greater heights of scientific and artistic power. As Europe struggled in its Dark Ages, Persia produced some of the Islamic world’s most famous scientists, mathematicians, theologians, and poets. Al-Ghazali, the theologian, scholar and mystic often referred to as one of the most important Muslims after the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), was from a city near Mashhad in present-day Iran. The legendary polymath Avicenna (Ibn Sina,) the greatest scientist and medical scholar of his age, the author of over 400 texts and a master of the Greco-Roman and Indian scholarly traditions, made time to compose poetry in his native Persian. Hafez Shirazi is still one of the world’s most famous and influential poets, and Persian poetry left an indelible stamp on South Asian literature and art. Omar Khayyam is well known not only for his quatrains but for his astronomical and mathematical genius. Al Khawarismi gave us algebra and introduced the zero into mathematics.

In the later Middle Ages, newer Islamic dynasties like the Mughals, the Timurids and the Ottomans took their cue from Iranian art and literature to cultivate their own civilizations. The flowing Nasta’liq script of written Persian, known for its beautiful long and sloping letters, was adopted by the Urdu language and revered by Ottoman artists, who used it as an inspiration for their own styles of calligraphy. Persian architecture set a new standard for physical beauty in houses of worship in the Islamic world.

But even in the Islamic Golden Age, Persians held some nostalgia for the purity and power of their culture and history. The poet Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh, or Book of Kings, an epic of Persian legends and history from the dawn of time until Islam, was written around the year 1000 AD and Ferdowsi was careful to avoid Arabic influence on his vocabulary – he wanted a Persian epic to be represented in undiluted Persian prose.

With the rise of the Safavid dynasty in the 16th century, Persia experienced another great shift. The Safavids installed Twelver Shi’a Islam in their kingdom, and Persia became a majority Shi’ite country as well as a locus of Shi’ite religious scholarship. The ancient city of Qom was Safavid Persia’s crowning intellectual jewel, a site of religious pilgrimage which became the largest center for Shi’a Islamic scholarship in the world. Under Safavid rule, Persia grew in religious prestige as its reputation as a center of aesthetic innovation declined.

By the 1800s, Persian artistic and intellectual elites no longer delighted in the poetry of the Shahnameh or studied the mysticism of al-Ghazali but instead sent their sons to French finishing schools or took long vacations to European museums and salons. Iran’s 1905 Constitutional Revolution laid bare the corruption of the crumbling Qajar dynasty: in the early 20th century, Persia was vulnerable to Soviet expansion and colonial European influence, caught between larger powers. Reza Shah Pahlavi, who came to power in the aftermath of a 1921 coup, was able to rescue Iranian pride of place from a geopolitical morass. His modernization programs – Western-style university education, better health care, the development of railways and infrastructure – helped the nation to join the developed nations of its era as a peer. The Shah was aware of his peoples’ need to feel pride in a uniquely Persian heritage, and he capitalized on that need to bolster support for his regime. It was Reza Pahlavi who insisted that foreign nations refer to Persia by its ancient name of Iran. In doing so, the Shah was intentionally evoking thousands of years of Aryan lineage and framing the modern Iranian state around its ancient ethnic identity. The Shah’s son went by the honorific Aryamehr, or “light of the Aryans”; while the name might sound antique, it was an innovation meant to remind Iranians of their roots, to restore the dignity of the concept of a specifically Iranian, rather than Islamic, government.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The Shah’s regime represented a step forward for Iran in many ways, but at the same time, the Pahlavi’s secular and authoritarian rule alienated the country’s more religious current. In 1971, the Pahlavi government spent vast amounts of time and money to celebrate the 2,500th anniversary of the Persian Empire founded by Cyrus the Great. It was a lavish affair, with food catered from Paris and giant tents equipped with the latest technology. The event was broadcast on international television. As the Shah paraded his wealth and lineage in front of the world, some Iranians grew angry: the religious right called the celebration “The Devil’s Festival”, Shi’ite clergy and the religious faithful were marginalized by the Shah’s secular regime, while many leftists in Iran protested the methods of the Shah’s secret police and what they saw as the increasingly repressive tone of political discourse. The Islamic Revolution of 1979, which installed the powerful yet polarizing Khomeini as Supreme Leader, was a new and different articulation of Iranian identity.

Khomeini’s claim to rule was based on his interpretation of the concept of “the guardianship of the jurists,” a Shi’ite doctrine articulated in the late 19th century which gave varying degrees of civil authority to religious scholars trained in Shi’ite Islamic law. Khomeini drastically expanded popular understanding of the doctrine enforcing his own interpretation of “guardianship,” giving himself, as the country’s premier religious leader, unchecked authority over Iran’s political affairs.

When the Islamic Revolution of Iran replaced the Shah’s elegant but fallen regime, some Iranians rejoiced at the prospect of Iran’s resurgence as an Islamic power. Others dreaded a move that they felt would divorce Iran from the rest of the world. Iran’s Islamic Revolution was a worldwide media sensation: in 1979, Ruhollah Khomeini became not only the leader of a nation but Time magazine’s “Man of the Year” and the singular face of Islamic rule worldwide. While Khomeini’s “guardianship” did not extend politically beyond Iran’s borders, his words and actions sent a message of an ambitious and wide-reaching claim to Islamic leadership; a new caliphate, but with Shi’ah practice.

Khomeini combined the Persian imperial ambition of the Shah with the more recent Shi’ite authority of his intellectual ancestors in Qom. This was an Iranian empire like no one had ever seen: insular, combative, and eschewing cultural exchange in favor of a claim to universal truth. It took on a pugilist’s stance, not an embracing one. Many Muslims around the world were dismayed by Khomeini’s sudden claim to speak for them and what seemed like callous disregard for other Islamic traditions and ways of life. Muslims who followed theological traditions very different from the Twelvers’ and lived in countries with rulers who were nothing like Khomeini were disturbed to have their religion so closely linked with Khomeini’s image, and to witness Khomeini embrace the role as the Supreme Leader not just of Iranians but of the entire Islamic world.

In 1980, and after miscalculating the extent of the political struggle that followed Khomeini’s return to Tehran, Saddam Hussein launched his abortive attempt to topple Khomeini. For two years and until Saddam’s troops were pushed back into Iraq, none of the Arab Gulf States supported him. Unfortunately, Khomeini vowed revenge and launched a counterattack on Iraq. He also miscalculated and the Iraqi people, Sunna and Shi’a alike, united in opposing Khomeini’s aggression. Only then did the Arab Gulf states come to the aid of Iraq.

Khomeini’s intention may have been to unite Muslims under a single banner, but, like Saddam, the aftermath of his actions 30 years later have only served to further divide the Muslim world.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Today, the lofty beauty of the Pleiades can seem very far indeed from the reality of daily life in Iran. The country is marked not by worldliness or even by religion but by isolation; in contrast to the travelling artists of the Sassanians and the multilingual scholars of the Islamic Golden Age, many famous and well-respected Iranian artists today have trouble even getting on a plane to another country. Khomeini’s imperial ambitions have restored Iran’s Islamic identity, but they have also doomed the country to a cramped and narrow existence. Interaction between Iran and its Muslim neighbors is limited and often hostile. In the aftermath of Khomeini’s death, Iran’s leaders have chosen to expand its nuclear program, a move that has further damaged Iran’s relationships with the international community. The sanctions arising from Iranian leaders’ decisions have severely strained the country’s economic and political opportunities and forced its citizens to close themselves off from much of the outside world. And yet clerical authorities in Iran still tend to act as if they lead the Islamic World; issuing ultimatums, intimidating their neighbors, and inciting dissidence and revolution.

Iran has the right to use nuclear power for peaceful purposes, but brinksmanship policies and the construction of secret facilities do nothing to serve the country’s best interests; nor do these policies alley the world’s suspicions. All member countries of the United Nations, not just the West, are bound by the Security Council’s sanctions on Iran. If Iran’s leaders seek equitable treatment on this issue, they must come clean about its nuclear program. The best way to move forward fairly on this issue is for Iran’s leaders to follow the policy set down by the Shah in 1974. The establishment of a Zone Free of Weapons of Mass Destruction in the Middle East will ensure a level playing ground for all nations in the region. Iran’s leaders claim to support the Zone. That support should not be by lip service only.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Iranians can be proud of their history and heritage. Arabs have the greatest respect for the faith and culture of Iranians, as well as the indelible Persian contribution to the marvels of Islamic society. But like all worthwhile achievements, Persia’s greatest masterpieces were the product of cooperation and education, of learning from and with people of other backgrounds. Just as Arabs, Africans, Europeans and Asians continue to be enriched by Persian knowledge and culture, Iran has been greatly enriched by its Arab, Asian, and European partners. Pushing away these interlocutors, dividing Muslims with bombastic claims to religious leadership, threatening their neighbors with false claims to Bahrain, and refusing all rational solutions to the dispute over the Emirati islands, will not restore the former glory of Iran; it will do just the opposite. Khameni’s meddling in Iraq is the cause of the daily killings and suffering that the Iraqi people are enduring. The situation in Syria, in which the Iranian government has chosen to support the butcher al-Assad, is a case in point. Ruhollah Khomeini was famous for his claim as the champion of the “mustazafin.” Today, Khomeini’s successors have chosen to support the oppressor, not the oppressed.

Khomeini wore the black turban that signified his pride in his long and noble Arab lineage. Khamenei, Khatemi, and even Nasrallah wear it also. But the Iranian leadership’s meddling in Arab countries is backfiring. Arabs will not be forced to wear a political suit tailored in Washington, London, or Paris. They also reject even the fanciest garb cut by the most skillful tailor in Tehran.

The Iranian leadership has the opportunity to share so much of Iran’s heritage and wisdom with other Muslims. But if they wish to gain the respect of other countries, they must first show respect to the traditions, heritage, and political identity of their peers. The election of Hassan Rouhani, who does not claim Arab lineage, may be an opportunity for Iran to trim its sails and steer a new course in the turbulent waters of the Middle East; or it may not. After all, Rafsanjani and Khatemi came to office with progressive ambitions only to be stymied by Khamenei. The 2009 election upheaval was a sign that things are not as usual; nor is the tranquility of the 2013 election. Rouhani will have to deliver before others take him seriously. King Abdallah welcomed Rouhani’s election and wished him well, the King also invited the new President to perform Hajj this year, which unfortunately, he has declined to accept. Saudi Arabia favors engagement with Iran, and President Obama’s overture to Rouhani will hopefully lead to Iran’s return to the International community as a contributor to peace and stability. Rouhani’s sensible discourse is in distinct contrast to Ahmedinejad’s bluster and bombast. With the world community opening its arms to embrace Rouhani, his major obstacle lies in the forces of darkness in Qum and Tehran. He has to shed Khomeini’s interventionist legacy and, like his own discourse, adopt sensible policies.

In the holy month of Ramadan, last year, and with the Holy Kaaba in sight at the Makkah Islamic Summit, King Abdullah, with the support of all Muslim countries, including Iran, launched the formation of the Center for Dialogue Among Islamic Schools of Thought, in Riyadh. That is where Iran’s contribution can make a difference in establishing its credibility with its Muslim peers.

In conclusion, the Islamic conversation is richer with the Iranian voice in it – but theirs cannot be the only voice we hear.

 

 

 

NIAC Policy Memo: Positive Steps By Iran and the U.S.

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Positive Steps by Iran and the U.S.

Since taking office in August, Iran’s new president Hassan Rouhani has sent positive signals and undertaken actions that suggest a nuclear compromise is achievable, U.S.-Iran tensions can be resolved, and the human rights situation in Iran can significantly improve.  While far more needs to be achieved, such small steps can create a virtuous cycle that helps overcome the mutual distrust on each side.

Nuclear Program

  • The office of the President has been given enhanced authority over nuclear negotiations:
    • The Foreign Ministry has taken over the nuclear negotiations from the Supreme National Security Council, a body which includes the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and is under the purview of the Supreme Leader. Foreign Minister Zarif will directly oversee nuclear negotiations.
  • Rouhani has made several positive appointments critical to nuclear negotiations:
    • Iran’s new Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, is a U.S.-educated diplomat with close contacts with officials including VP Joe Biden and Defense Secretary Hagel, and has a history of working to resolve U.S.-Iran relations. As a Senator in 2007, Biden told the Washington Post: “Zarif is a tough advocate but he’s also pragmatic, not dogmatic. He can play an important role in helping to resolve our significant differences with Iran peacefully.”
    • Rouhani has also appointed Ali Akbar Salehi, who advocated for the Supreme Leader to allow direct talks with the U.S., to head the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran.
  • Iran’s government, including the Supreme Leader, appear to be laying the groundwork publicly for a compromise:
    • The Supreme Leader has endorsed Rouhani’s approach by calling for Iran to show “heroic flexibility” in nuclear negotiations, laying the groundwork for a compromise solution. The Supreme Leader has also endorsed Rouhani’s call for the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, widely viewed as towing a hardline on the nuclear issue, to stay out of political matters.
    • Iran’s new President and Foreign Minister have articulated for both foreign and domestic audiences that acquiring nuclear weapons—or even allowing for the impression that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons due to lack of transparency—undermines Iran’s security interests:
      • In a 2006 article in Time, Rouhani argued that a nuclear Iran would “accord Iran no security dividends,” while destabilizing the region, prompting a regional arms race, and wasting scarce resources.
      • Rouhani has promised “to build trust and repair relations with the United States,” and indicated that Iran is willing to take steps to increase the transparency of the country’s nuclear program. 
      • Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif recently stated: “it is in Iran’s national security interest for the entire world to know that we do not want nuclear weapons; that nuclear weapons have no place in Iran’s security doctrine and even the perception in the world that Iran pursues a nuclear weapons program is detrimental to our security.” 
  • Iran has taken concrete steps to limit provocative nuclear advances:
    • According to the IAEA, Iran has been slowing its accumulation of 20% LEU by converting uranium hexafluoride gas enriched to 20% into oxide powder, thus ensuring that Iran’s accumulation of 20% LEU does not reach a threshold of 250 kg—the amount that, if enriched further to 90%, could be used for one nuclear weapon.
    • According to the head of Iran’s nuclear program, Ali Akbar Salehi, Iran plans to convert all of its 20% LEU to fuel for its medical research reactor, which would significantly reduce Iran’s ability to produce a nuclear weapon with stockpiled uranium.
    • According to the IAEA, Iran has installed but is still not operating advanced centrifuges.

Human Rights

  • Prominent prisoners of conscience released: 
    • Imprisoned Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Soutodueh, whose case has been raised by President Obama and his administration as well as by the UN special rapporteur on Iran and human rights organizations, was released from prison on September 18, 2013, along with 10 fellow prisoners of conscience.
  • Hopeful signals for release of imprisoned Green Movement leaders:
    • Rouhani promised to work for a non-securitized environment in which the leaders of the Green Movement, Mir Hussein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, and others detained after the 2009 elections would be released.
    • The Guardian reported that Mousavi and Karroubi have seen an improvement in the conditions of their house arrest.
    • The Supreme Leader agreed to allow the Supreme National Security Council to consider the release of Mousavi and Rouhani, which has raised hopes for their imminent release.
  • Positive outreach to Jews
    • Rouhani and Zarif both tweeted congratulatory messages to Jews in Iran and worldwide on Rosh Hashanah.
    • Also on Twitter, Iran’s foreign minister responded to criticism that Iran should stop denying the Holocaust by stating “Iran never denied it. The man who was perceived to be denying it [Mahmoud Ahmadinejad] is now gone.”
    • On the campaign trail, Rouhani criticized Ahmadinejad’s “hate rhetoric.”

Syria

  • Questioning Iran’s support for Assad:
    • Syria’s alleged use of chemical weapons created fissures within Iran’s political establishment, with former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, a close ally of Rouhani, blaming Assad for the attacks and comparing him to Saddam Hussein. 
    • Rouhani and Zarif both condemned the use of chemical weapons in Syria, though did not attribute their use to Assad. However, Rouhani has indicated that they would accept the outcome of democratic elections in Syria, indicating that they may be open to a diplomatic transition that results in Assad stepping down.
  • Supporting diplomacy:
    • Iran has opposed military intervention while supporting the proposed Russian deal for the international community to secure and destroy Syria’s chemical arsenal.President Obama has implied that Iran has played a constructive role in convincing Assad to refrain from using chemical weapons.  
    • According to Obama, “Iran, you know, unfortunately was the target of chemical weapons at the hands of Saddam Hussein back during the Iraq-Iran War…. And you know, I suspect that some of Assad’s allies recognize the mistake he made in using these weapons and it may be that he is under pressure from them as well.”
    • Ali Shamkhani, Iran’s former defense minister under Reformist President Mohammad Khatami, was appointed to the head of the Supreme National Security Council.  He is the first Iranian of Arab descent to head either position, and is expected to utilize his strong relationships with Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf states to repair relations with those countries.

Positive Signals from the United States

  • President Obama initiated a private exchange of letters with Rouhani, proposing “to turn a new page” in relations with Iran and offering a potential loosening of sanctions in forthcoming talks.
  • Obama also stated that there are indications Rouhani “is somebody who is looking to open dialogue with the West and with the United States, in a way that we haven’t seen in the past. And so we should test it.”
  • Prior to Iran’s election in June, the administration also eased sanctions on personal communication devices, including laptops, mobile devices, software and virtual private networks.
  • A bipartisan group of 131 representatives, including leadership from each party, called Rouhani’s election a “major opportunity” and encouraged revitalized diplomacy with Iran, including through bilateral and multilateral talks and rolling back sanctions to obtain Iranian nuclear concessions.
  • At the first IAEA Board of Governors’ meeting since Rouhani’s election in early-mid September, world powers refrained from targeting Iran with additional pressure in order to give the new leader time to shift course.

 

 

 

Former Officials Call on Obama to Reinvigorate Iran Diplomacy

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Jamal Abdi
Phone: 202-386-6408
Email: jabdi@niacouncil.org

Washington, DC – Twenty-nine prominent former government officials, diplomats, military officers, and national security experts are calling on the White House to pursue direct negotiations with Iran once the country’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, is inaugurated. In a letter to President Obama today, the group called the election of Iran’s new president “a major potential opportunity to reinvigorate diplomatic efforts to resolve the standoff over Iran’s nuclear program.” 

The letter comes as Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has called for ratcheting up sanctions and threats of military action, and Congress is reportedly mulling a new round of sanctions. The letter cautions that “diplomacy will only succeed if we are prepared to leverage existing sanctions and other incentives in exchange for reciprocal Iranian concessions,” and said that “in the leadup to Rouhani’s inauguration, it is critical that all parties abstain from provocative actions that could imperil this diplomatic opportunity.”

“It remains to be seen whether this opportunity will yield real results,” reads the letter. “But the United States, Iran, and the rest of the international community cannot afford to miss or dismiss the potential opportunity before us.”

The full letter is below:

July 15, 2013

The Honorable Barack H. Obama
President of the United States of America
The White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500 

Dear President Obama,

The election of Hassan Rouhani to be Iran’s next president presents a major potential opportunity to reinvigorate diplomatic efforts to resolve the standoff over Iran’s nuclear program. We strongly encourage your Administration to seize the moment to pursue new multilateral and bilateral negotiations with Iran once Rouhani takes office and to avoid any provocative action that could narrow the window of opportunity for a more moderate policy out of Tehran.

Once the new president has been inaugurated, the United States should pursue coordinated multilateral engagement on the nuclear issue through the P5+1. Additionally, the U.S. should prepare to redouble its efforts to pursue direct, bilateral negotiations with Iran to engage on issues beyond the nuclear file, such as human rights and regional security. After assessing the orientation of the new Iranian government, the U.S. and partners should prepare to offer a new set of proposals to limit Iran’s enrichment and nuclear materials stockpiles combined with stringent oversight and verification measures.

While it will take time to secure an agreement to resolve all concerns, diplomacy will only succeed if we are prepared to leverage existing sanctions and other incentives in exchange for reciprocal Iranian concessions. Further, in the leadup to Rouhani’s inauguration, it is critical that all parties abstain from provocative actions that could imperil this diplomatic opportunity. For the U.S., no further sanctions should be imposed or considered at this time as they could empower hardliners opposed to nuclear concessions at the expense of those seeking to shift policy in a more moderate direction.

It remains to be seen whether this opportunity will yield real results. But the United States, Iran, and the rest of the international community cannot afford to miss or dismiss the potential opportunity before us. In the past, when one side has failed to seize an opportunity to resolve the standoff between the U.S. and Iran, it has only produced worse outcomes and diminishing options. Given the current state of Iran’s nuclear capability, the heightened tensions in the region, and the potential for a confrontation, all parties involved should be ready and willing to seize this opportunity to achieve diplomatic progress towards a peaceful resolution of the standoff.

Sincerely,

Barry Blechman, co-founder of the Stimson Center

Prof. Juan Cole, University of Michigan

Prof. Farideh Farhi, University of Hawai’i at Manoa

Amb. Chas Freeman, former US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia

Lt. General Robert G. Gard, Jr. Former President of National Defense University

Col. Sam Gardiner, United States Air Force, Retired

Morton Halperin, former Special Assistant to the President, Senior Director for Democracy at the National Security Council, and State Department Director of Policy Planning

General Joseph P. Hoar, former Commander in Chief, United States Central Command

Amb. Steen Hohw-Christensen, former Ambassador of Sweden to Iran

Amb. Peter Jenkins, former Ambassador of the UK to the IAEA

Amb. Dennis Jett, Professor of International Affairs, Penn State University

Brig. General John Johns, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense

Larry Korb, former Assistant Secretary of Defense

Amb. John Limbert, Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Iran

Reza Marashi, former Iran Desk officer, US Department of State; Research Director, National Iranian American Council

Alireza Nader, Iran analyst

Amb. François Nicoullaud, former Ambassador of France to Iran

Dr. Trita Parsi, President, National Iranian American Council

Bruno Pellaud, former Deputy Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency

Amb. Thomas Pickering, former Under Secretary of State

Paul Pillar, former National Intelligence Officer for the Near East and South Asia, Central Intelligence Agency

Gary Sick, Iran specialist on National Security Council under Presidents Ford, Carter and Reagan; Columbia University

Anne-Marie Slaughter, former State Department Director of Policy Planning 

 John Steinbruner, Director, Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland, University of Maryland

Greg Thielman, former Director of the Strategic, Proliferation and Military Affairs Office in the Department of State’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research

Amb. Roberto Toscano, former Ambassador of Italy to Iran

Dr. Jim Walsh, Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Security Studies Program (SSP)

Wayne White, former Deputy Director of the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence

Col. Larry Wilkerson, former Chief of Staff to Gen. Colin Powell

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Parsing Rouhani’s Victory

The election of Hassan Rouhani as Iran’s next president has elicited different interpretations in Washington. To some, Iranian officials from both sides of the political spectrum are cut from the same cloth, so a pox on both of their houses! To others, a centrist Iranian president offers the best opportunity for finding a peaceful solution to the US-Iran standoff since Barack Obama’s first year in office. That said, Iranian politics can simultaneously produce continuity and change. A few key signposts stand out.

The Changes

A freshly elected Rouhani will feel bolstered in his views, and in turn, will work to push forward his agenda. Nevertheless, he is not all-powerful with regards to nuclear negotiations and improving US-Iran relations. In an effort to boost his chances of success internally, Rouhani will likely build a coalition government that utilizes diverse factional views and figures. This will pave the way for the return of many reformist and technocratic mindsets to the executive branch who have a demonstrated track record of seeking more professional approaches in addressing Iran’s foreign policy and national security challenges.

Yes, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei will have the last word on Iran’s nuclear program and on its relationship with the United States. But Rouhani’s coalition government will almost certainly facilitate the process. The diversity of views in his government may complicate negotiations at first, as different personalities and factions re-learn to work with one another, but finding creative solutions will likely become more feasible for one key reason: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s (and to be fair, Khamenei’s) insistence on using inexperienced forces in Iran’s diplomatic apparatus will no longer be a glaring weakness in Tehran.

Simply put, Ahmadinejad’s departure from office can provide a burst of momentum to facilitate reciprocal, confidence-building overtures between Tehran and Washington — momentum that was nearly impossible over the past eight years due to Ahmadinejad’s political toxicity.

The Continuity

From monarchists to mullahs, Iranian officials have long been focused on consolidating their country as a regional power, undeterred by the objections of great powers. The key cornerstones of this strategy will not change under a Rouhani presidency. As with the Rafsanjani, Khatami and Ahmadinejad presidencies, Iran will seek to improve ties with its immediate neighbors, as well as prominent Islamic countries. To that end, relations with regional powers Saudi Arabia and Turkey will likely be Rouhani’s top priority.

A Rouhani presidency will also continue Iran’s prioritization of improving its indigenous technological capabilities. The very existence of Iran’s nuclear program, missile development, satellite launches and arms procurement are key examples of issues deemed contentious by Washington and non-negotiable by Tehran. However, the contours of these activities are negotiable, and Iran is willing to place limitations on them — for the right price.

It’s critical for Washington to understand the value that all political factions in Iran — including Rouhani — place in the principle of standing up to western pressure. As the Supreme Leader’s chief foreign policy advisor (and potential Rouhani political appointee) Ali Akbar Velayati remarked, Iran will “never give in and never give up.”

The bottom line of Tehran’s nuclear negotiating stance — aimed at achieving acknowledgment of its right to enrich uranium on Iranian soil and the lifting sanctions — has transcended presidential administrations. The key difference between the governing style of Rouhani and his former campaign rival, Saeed Jalili, will be more in style rather than substance. Indeed, during the presidential debates Rouhani did not object to Jalili’s nuclear objective and rather to Jalili’s inability to avoid high costs while pursuing those objectives.

What Happens Now

An opening to the US during Rouhani’s presidency will likely be accepted by Iranian elites — provided it’s not interpreted as a sign of weakness and helps bolster rather than damage Iran’s regional standing. To that end, confidence-building measures have proven to be a difficult construct, largely due to what former President Mohammad Khatami describes as a “wall of mistrust” between the countries.

Contrary to popular assumption in Washington, the Iranian power structure has produced — not “allowed” — a shift in the Iranian presidency, which will likely produce some changes in policy. The degree to which these policy shifts are favorable to Washington’s interests will largely depend on its own actions in moving forward.

When Rouhani and his team attempt to challenge and re-define policies, it will be incumbent upon them to demonstrate an alternative narrative that is squarely in the best interest of the system. Few would argue against the notion that Ayatollah Khamenei’s prevailing narrative is predicated on the idea of nefarious US intentions. Since it will be vital to break Khamenei’s narrative for diplomacy to succeed, Washington must demonstrate through word and deed that it is not against Iran’s scientific, technological and regional progress.

The track record over the past fifteen years is clear: eased foreign tension empowers Iranian centrists and moderates; increased foreign pressure cements the anti-western narrative in Iran. Want to help Iranian hard-liners box in Rouhani? Want to push moderate elements of the Iranian elite into the mindset of distrusting the US? Increasing sanctions and other forms of pressure will almost certainly produce these outcomes.

Contrary to a reigning assumption in certain Washington circles, sanctions did not force the regime to “allow” Rouhani’s victory. Instead, pressure from the Iranian people at the ballot box forced the regime to honor the vote for fear of a 2009 post-election redux that could deepen existing wounds within the regime and, in turn, bring about its total collapse. Khamenei could cheat once, but not twice in a row.

The show of popular force behind Rouhani will provide him with a degree of latitude to break from the previous administration’s policies. But his political rivals won’t have to dig very far into their playbook to sabotage his efforts if new sanctions render him unable to fend off charges of weakness. In this scenario, rather than compromise with the US, Rouhani will be forced to back Khamenei’s narrative, “We respond to pressure with pressure.”

Failure on the part of Washington to seize the opportunity presented by Rouhani’s victory will render his more conciliatory approach to the US stillborn. Of course, for some, this is the preferred outcome.

 

This article originally appeared in Lobe Log

– Reza Marashi is Director of Research at the National Iranian American Council.
– Photo Credit: Roohollah Vahdati

 

 

 

Miami Herald: Iran’s President-Elect May Shift Country’s Policies Toward Persian Gulf, Israel

“Rowhani and his allies are in position to significantly reduce tensions with Saudi Arabia,” Trita Parsi said. “And a functioning relationship with Saudi Arabia is essential for an end to the crisis in Syria.”

 

 

 

Iran Elections Media Advisory: NIAC Experts Available for Analysis

 
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
 
Contact:
Trita Parsi, President – 202.386.6325, tparsi@niacouncil.org
Reza Marashi, Research Director – 202.379.1639rmarashi@niacouncil.org
Jamal Abdi, Policy Director – 202.386.6408jabdi@niacouncil.org 
 
 
Washington, DC – Experts from the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) will be available to media before, during and after Iran’s presidential election for analysis of the internal political dynamics inside Iran; the implications for Iran’s pro-democracy and human rights movement; the considerations of policymakers inside the U.S. and implications for the nuclear issue; and the reaction of the Iranian-American community.  
 
 
 
 
On Friday, June 14, Iran will hold presidential elections that will have major implications for its domestic politics and relations with the outside world – including the nuclear standoff with the United States. Iran’s 2009 vote saw the mobilization of the pro-democracy “green movement” and massive demonstrations that plunged the country into chaos for months after allegations of a fraudulent Ahmadinejad victory. This year, authorities do not appear to be taking any chances, clamping down on dissent and disqualifying prominent pro-reform candidates. But Iran’s election promises to be full of surprises and shifting dynamics that will shape decision-making inside Tehran, as well as Washington’s calculations and options going forward.

Available NIAC analysts:

 
Jamal Abdi is the Policy Director for the National Iranian American Council (NIAC). He leads NIAC’s advocacy and education efforts in support of non-military solutions to the U.S.-Iran standoff, advancing human rights in Iran, and protecting civil rights in the U.S. on behalf of the Iranian-American community. He monitors U.S. Government policy and is in close contact with the Administration and Congress. He formerly served as Policy Advisor on foreign affairs, immigration, and defense issues in the U.S. Congress. Abdi has written for The New York TimesCNNForeign PolicyThe HillThe Progressive and Public Service Europe, and blogs at The Huffington Post.  He is a frequent guest contributer in print, radio, and television, including appearances on Al Jazeera, NPR, BBC News and RT America. Follow Jamal on Twitter: @jabdi 

Reza Marashi is the Research Director for the National Iranian American Council (NIAC).  He came to NIAC after four years in the Office of Iranian Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.  Prior to his tenure at the State Department, he was an analyst at the Institute for National Strategic Studies (INSS) covering China-Middle East issues, and a Tehran-based private strategic consultant on Iranian political and economic risk.  Marashi is frequently consulted by Western governments on Iran-related matters.  His articles have appeared in The New York TimesForeign PolicyThe Atlantic, and the National Interest, among other publications.  He has been a guest contributor to CNN, NPR, the BBC, TIME Magazine, The Washington Post, and the Financial Times, among other broadcast outlets.  Follow Reza on Twitter: @rezamarashi 

 
Trita Parsi is the 2010 recipient of the Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order. He is the founder and president of the National Iranian American Council and an expert on US-Iranian relations, Iranian foreign politics, and the geopolitics of the Middle East. He is the author of Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Iran, Israel and the United States (Yale University Press 2007), for which he conducted more than 130 interviews with senior Israeli, Iranian and American decision-makers. Treacherous Alliance is the silver medal winner of the 2008 Arthur Ross Book Award from the Council on Foreign Relations.

Parsi’s new book Single Roll of the Dice – Obama’s Diplomacy with Iran (Yale University Press) was released early 2012. He interviewed 70 high-ranking officials from the U.S., Iran, Europe, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Brazil—including the top American and Iranian negotiators—for this book. Parsi uncovers the previously unknown story of American and Iranian negotiations during Obama’s early years as president, the calculations behind the two nations’ dealings, and the real reasons for their current stalemate.

Parsi’s articles on Middle East affairs have been published in the Wall Street JournalNew York TimesLos Angeles TimesFinancial TimesJane’s Intelligence Review, the Nation,The American Conservative, the Jerusalem PostThe Forward, and others. He is a frequent guest on CNN, PBS’s Newshour with Jim Lehrer, NPR, the BBC, and Al Jazeera. Follow Trita on Twitter: @tparsi

 
Recent NIAC publications and media appearances:
 
 
 
 
 

 

About NIAC

The National Iranian American Council (NIAC) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing the interests of the Iranian-American community. NIAC’s mission is focused on promoting an active and engaged Iranian-American community, supporting aspirations for human rights and democracy in Iran, opposing war between the US and Iran, and celebrating our community’s deep cultural heritage.  NIAC accomplishes its mission by supplying the resources, knowledge and tools to enable greater civic participation by Iranian Americans and informed decision-making by policymakers.

For more information, please visit niacouncil.org.

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State Department Criticizes Iran on Lack of Religious Freedom

Washington, DC – “Government rhetoric and actions created a threatening atmosphere for nearly all non-Shia religious groups, most notably for Bahais, as well as for Sufi Muslims, evangelical Christians, Jews, and Shia groups not sharing the [Iranian] government’s official religious views,” says a report issued by the State Department.

Secretary of State John Kerry announced the release of the annual International Religious Freedom Report this week, which describes the status of religious freedom in every country.  

The Iran country report describes a deterioration of respect for religious freedom by Iran’s government, including through harassment, imprisonment, and discrimination of religious practices and minorities.

Iran is one of eight countries that have been listed as a “Country of Particular Concern” (CPC), along with Burma, China, Eritrea, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Uzbekistan.

The Islamic Republic recognizes three non-Islamic religions as protected under the constitution – Christians, Jews, and Zorastrians. Bahai’s are considered to be a “political sect” and apostates by the government. 

A number of religious minority groups have faced continued arrests, detention, and property confiscation, according to the report. “The government continued to increase convictions and executions of dissidents, political reformists, and peaceful protesters on the charge of moharebeh (enmity against God) and anti-Islamic propaganda.” 

Christian pastors such as Youcef Nadarkhani and Iranian-American Saeed Abedini have been imprisoned, and the report states that physical and psychological abuse as well as a lack of consular and medical care has occurred in Abedini’s case. 

The report confirms that, “All religious minorities suffered varying degrees of officially sanctioned discrimination, particularly in the areas of employment, education, and housing,” yet there have also been specific efforts to target certain religious groups. “The government prohibits Bahais from teaching and practicing their faith and subjects them to many forms of discrimination not faced by members of other religious groups.” Since 1991, Bahais have been banned from universities if they openly declare their faith.

In addition to large amounts of arbitrary arrests, the report describes anti-Semitic rhetoric among government officials, religious leaders, and the media. The report references comments made by President Ahmadinejad questioning the Holocaust and by Vice President Mohammed-Reza Rahimi blaming “Zionists” for the international drug trade. 

Not only are non-Islamic religions being targeted and threatened, but non-Shia groups have also faced religious discrimination according to the report. Sunni literature has been reported as banned, as have building of new Sunni schools and mosques. Sunnis cite that there is no Sunni Mosque in Tehran even though there are reported to be more than one million Sunnis in the capital.  

As the report makes clear that most abuses have come from government rhetoric and action, the report says elements of society have become less receptive and more threatening to religious minorities. This “atmosphere of impunity” is not a positive trend as respect for religious freedom has continued to decline.