IranSource | Understanding and Analyzing a Multifaceted Iran

As a journalist and researcher, I very much appreciate a spirited debate about controversial issues. So I welcome the article written recently by a PhD graduate student about my issue brief on Iran’s Sunnis.

I agree with the student’s concerns about the map, with which I was not totally comfortable. However, on the more important issue of whether Iran’s Sunnis face systemic discrimination, I disagree with the student’s arguments, many of which echo the Islamic Republic’s official line.

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Less than two weeks before US President Donald J. Trump is due to decide on the future of US participation in the Iran nuclear deal, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed that his country has found proof Iran lied about the extent of its nuclear program. 

In a speech delivered on April 30, Netanyahu said Israel has collected more than 100,000 files and roughly 180 CDs worth of evidence to show that Iran had nuclear capabilities beyond those revealed in negotiations to establish the nuclear deal. The material was reportedly obtained by Israeli intelligence from a secret storage facility in Tehran. 

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Much of the discourse on the future of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the nuclear agreement between the P5+1 powers and Iran, has centered broadly on two issue sets. The first comprises the issues between Iran and the six powers; the second, perhaps more widely-discussed are dynamics between the United States and the other five powers.

However, any significant change to the agreement is bound to affect another front: the already strained Israeli-Iranian relationship. Indeed, the current debate around the JCPOA unfolds during the tensest period ever in Israeli-Iranian bilateral relations. On April 20, Hussein Salami, Vice Head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), stated that “hands are on the trigger and missiles are ready…north and west of Israel are at the intersection of fire.” Directly addressing Israelis, he further stated, “You will not escape. You live in the dragon’s mouth.”

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Appointed by President Hassan Rouhani as the new head of Iran’s Department of Environment (DOE), Isa Kalantari knew that this chronically mismanaged organization desperately needed new blood.

Facing myriad environmental challenges including growing water shortages, Kalantari, who previously served as minister of agriculture and whose policies had been harshly criticized, decided to reach out for help and to recruit a young “outsider” with impressive credentials.

Kaveh Madani, a 36-year-old Iranian scholar based at Imperial College in the United Kingdom, seemed like the perfect candidate. He had already won international recognition, including the Huber Engineering Research Prize “for groundbreaking research in developing methods for the allocation of scarce water resources merging conflict-resolution and game-theoretic concepts for application to complex water resources systems.”

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The US Senate on April 26 confirmed former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency Mike Pompeo as the new US Secretary of State. 

US President Donald J. Trump picked Pompeo, a known foreign policy hawk on issues from Russia to Iran to North Korea, to replace Rex Tillerson at the State Department on March 13.

Atlantic Council analysts and experts weighed in on the confirmation, including its implications for US-Iranian relations.

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As the May 12 deadline approaches for President Donald Trump to renew sanctions waivers in compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), multiple European leaders, as well as the Chinese and Russians, are working to keep the agreement in place. President Emanuel Macron’s three-day State visit to Washington on April 23 was for the same reason.

Macron presented a four-point plan to Trump during their meeting at the White House, to address Iran’s nuclear program in the short and long term, the development of ballistic missiles, and the Islamic Republic’s regional presence.

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French President Macron is performing a delicate balancing act addressing US President Trump’s dissatisfaction with the Iran nuclear deal while seeking to keep the multilateral agreement intact. Trump has been crystal clear since his presidential campaign that he views the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) - the Iran nuclear agreement - as a “bad deal.” He has criticized it as insufficient and unable to deny Iran’s nuclear ambitions, address Iran’s regional activities, or curb its ballistic missile program. Middle East Security Initiative Director Rachel Brandenburg describes what appear to be the four pillars of President Macron's strategy for convincing President Trump to remain in the JCPOA at the New Atlanticist.

Read the entire piece at the New Atlanticist.

The future of the Iran nuclear deal—the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—hangs in the balance as the May 12 deadline set by US President Donald J. Trump to “fix” the deal or to walk away from it approaches.

In an interview with Rachel Brandenburg, director of the Atlantic Council’s Middle East Security Initiative, the Atlantic Council’s Matthew Kroenig, deputy director for strategy in the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security, and Aaron Stein, senior fellow in the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, offer different perspectives on whether the deal has worked and the possible consequences should Trump decide to pull out of the multilateral agreement.

Read the entire interview at the New Atlanticist.

 

In her issue brief for the Atlantic Council, “Iran’s Sunnis Resist Extremism, but for How Long?” Scheherezade Faramarzi discusses the current situation of Sunnis in Iran. While Faramarzi’s work is valuable given her fieldwork in Iran, in the view of this author, her piece contains errors and misleading information.

I agree with Faramazi that the Islamic Republic of Iran has failed to properly integrate its Sunni population into the political system by depriving them of higher political positions such as cabinet ministries. However, I disagree with her presentation about the number of Sunnis in Iran, where they are concentrated and their socio-economic status in comparison to the majority Shia population.

According to Faramazi, “Some fifteen million of Iran’s eighty million people are Sunni Muslims, the country’s largest religious minority.” She suggests that according to Sunni leaders and observers, Iran’s Sunni population is somewhere between “12 to 25 percent” of the total population. My research suggests that the percentage is ten percent or about eight million people.

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As French President Emmanuel Macron arrives in Washington, a top priority will be convincing his American counterpart to stay within the landmark nuclear agreement with Iran.

But judging from this analyst’s conversations with Iranian diplomats in Europe and New York over the past week, Macron and his colleagues in Germany and Britain may have an equally crucial task persuading Iran to remain within the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) if US President Donald J. Trump fails to reissue waivers of US sanctions on the next deadline, May 12.

Despite all the attention paid to the US-Iran aspect of the nuclear issue, Iran’s main expectation upon signing the JCPOA was that it would be able to restore and increase economic relations with Europe, traditionally Iran’s major trading partner.

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