S'agit-il vraiment de l'accord historique attendu par tous ?

Oui, s'il aboutit effectivement à un accord définitif le 30 juin. Il mettra fin à trente-cinq ans de relations conflictuelles entre Téhéran et Washington, réintégrant l'Iran dans le concert des nations et assurant le renoncement à l'arme nucléaire de ce dernier. Les protocoles de contrôle, pour éviter des tricheries de Téhéran, comme celles qui lui avaient permis de construire le site souterrain de Fordow, me semblent très sérieux, très précis. 

Le calendrier de la levée des sanctions fait-il question ?

Le texte est ambigu sur ce point, car il ne précise pas clairement quand elles seraient levées, hormis une mention du respect par l'Iran de ses engagements. En outre, il parle de  « sanctions », indéterminées, et non pas  « des sanctions » dans leur ensemble. Il s'agit de ce que les diplomates appellent des « ambiguïtés constructives », volontaires, qui permettent de ne pas bloquer la dynamique de l'accord, à charge ensuite d'être dissipées en juin. A noter au passage que les Etats-Unis maintiennent quoi qu'il arrive les sanctions qui ont été prises au nom de la lutte contre le terrorisme ou pour les droits de l'homme. Les rivalités demeurent. D'ailleurs, l'Iran ne renonce pas à sa politique d'influence au Moyen-Orient, notamment en Syrie ou au Liban. On est encore très loin du « grand bargain » que certains pronostiquent entre Washington et Téhéran ou d'un renversement d'alliances. Les Saoudiens n'ont d'ailleurs pas réagi de manière critique à l'annonce de l'accord. 


Les tenants d'une ligne dure peuvent-ils encore faire échouer les négociations ?

Ca leur sera difficile, même s'ils disposent toujours d'une capacité de nuisance. A Téhéran on entend à peine les adversaires du compromis et le ministre des Affaires étrangères, Javad Zarif, a reçu un accueil triomphal. Aux Etats-Unis, les républicains alliés aux faucons parmi les démocrates auront du mal à faire voter de nouvelles sanctions contre l'Iran à la majorité des deux tiers du Congrès nécessaire pour surmonter le veto présidentiel. Le gouvernement israélien n'a pas renoncé à faire échouer l'accord, mais ne dispose pas de beaucoup de leviers pour cela. 


Propos recueillis par Y. B., Les Echos

En savoir plus : http://www.lesechos.fr/journal20150407/lec1_monde/0204278905337-denis-bauchard-un-accord-definitif-reintegrera-liran-dans-le-concert-des-nations-1108847.php?PitSsIouZEezrrFc.99

Published in Interviews


We will start by re-establishing relations on a consular level or with a charge d'affaires. <...> They will be restored in a progressive manner. <...> We do not believe that our interests are served by cutting off relations with Syria. <...> We will not have an ambassador there, but Tunisia will open a consulate or put in place a charge d'affaires, and a Syria ambassador is welcome to Tunisia, if Syria wishes so. 

– Taieb Baccouche, Tunisia's Foreign Minister


The situation in Yarmouk is an affront to the humanity of all of us, a source of universal shame.<...> Yarmouk is a test, a challenge for the international community. We must not fail. The credibility of the international system itself is at stake

– Chris Gunness, U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) spokesman 

We won't get to a political transition without slowly giving and taking. 

– Randa Kassis, President of the Movement for a Pluralistic Society  

We'll see what the government delegation comes up with, including on the humanitarian front, but I am not hopeful for anything special. It'll be more of a continuation of dialogue at best.

– Anonymous Syrian opposition representative



Medical supplies need to be here yesterday. The situation is difficult.<...> We need to save the lives that can be saved.

– Marie-Claire Feghali, a spokeswoman for the ICRC

For the wounded, their chances of survival depend on action within hours, not days.

– Robert Mardini, head of the ICRC's operations in the Near and Middle East

All air, land and sea routes must be opened without delay for at least 24 hours to enable help to reach people cut off after more than a week of intense air strikes and fierce ground fighting nationwide.

– The ICRC statement

There is little point in putting an embargo on the whole country. It doesn’t make sense to punish everybody else for the behavior of one party that has been the aggressor in this situation.

– Abdallah Al-Mouallimi, Saudi Arabia’s representative to the UN 

We still stand by our position on dialogue and we demand its continuation despite everything that has happened, on the basis of respect and acknowledging the other. <...> We have no conditions except a halt to the aggression and sitting on the dialogue table within a specific time period <...> and any international or regional parties that have no aggressive positions towards the Yemeni people can oversee the dialogue.

– Saleh Ali al-Sammad, senior political figure of the Houthi movement.

We got to this position because the Houthis, over and over again, violated cease-fires, took military action, took action by force instead of engaging in a genuine way in political talks. <...> The only way out of this crisis is through a return to genuine political talks on an equal basis, and not using force.

– Peter Wilson, Britain's deputy U.N. ambassador

Throughout the Yemeni national dialogue, which lasted a year during which I served as a rapporteur on the military committee, the Houthis tried to convince us in the south that we were victims of injustice within the framework of unification. Yet now they come to us as belligerent occupiers.

General Nasser Al-Tawil, spokesman for the Retired Servicemen’s Front in Aden



A better deal would roll back Iran’s vast nuclear infrastructure, and require Iran to stop its aggression in the region, its terror worldwide and its calls and actions to annihilate the state of Israel. That’s a better deal. It’s achievable.

– Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's Prime Minister

Do you really think that this verifiable deal, if fully implemented, backed by the world's major powers, is a worse option than the risk of another war in the Middle East?

– Barak Obama, United States President 

Iran needs cash and will not agree to hold back as part of an OPEC [oil] supply–reduction deal. <...> While a deal with Iran regarding its nuclear program will open up the country's energy sector for investment and eventually lead not only to a restoration of the 1 million barrels of daily output lost since sanctions were tightened against Tehran, but will also lead to a longer-term rise in both oil and gas output. 

– Chris Weafer, the founding partner of Macro Advisory

If the (final) agreement is signed in June, Russia will be the loser. Now, Iran will be more inclined toward the West. For Russia, that’s a problem.

–  Alexey Malashenko, an analyst at the Moscow Carnegie Center 

Moscow looks at its role in the Iran talks not so much in its own terms but in how it can play into issues of more central interest to itself. <...> The West is forced to recognize Moscow's status as a global power; Iran can feel it has been a good ally; and other current or potential Russian allies can be reassured.

– Mark Galeotti, Professor of global affairs at New York University


Tweets of the week

Published in Weeks-in-Quotes

Thursday evening in Iran people flooded the streets to celebrate what looks to be, at last, a tangible and positive result of the long and hard negotiations on the Iranian nuclear program with the “P5 +1” (five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany). Columns of cars were honking; many were carrying photos of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani; and in homes and shops, broadcast live, there was Barack Obama speaking about the results of the talks. It didn’t hurt the festive mood that the agreement was announced on the Iranian holiday of “sizdah de dar” the last day of Noruz celebrations (the ancient Persian New Year).

The revelry was a mass release from the fatigue of over 30 years of sanctions and resulting economic malaise with no end in sight. Sanctions, no matter how “smart,” do little to punish governments and regimes but are quite effective at making life hard for the average citizen. It was not only Iranians, however, anxious about the results of the talks: the consequences of failure, of such drawn-out bargaining ending only with both parties packing up and returning to the status quo, would be unpredictable but certainly negative for regional and world politics. And of course, that is still a possibility. Rouhani’s rating would drop; perhaps he would have to resign in favor of a radical conservative candidate, the tact of dialogue discredited (as it was to an extant after ex-president Khatami’s attempts at reconciliation with the West failed – which helped to pave the way for the politics of Ahmadinejad). It’s difficult to imagine how such a turn of events could improve the already badly deteriorated situation in the Middle East. Across the ocean, archconservative elements in the United States would seize on a negotiations failure, especially in election campaigns, as supposed proof that the stick, and never the carrot, is the only really valid means of achieving foreign policy goals.

Critical for Iran will be the cancellation of oil exports sanctions, which should be lifted after the final agreements scheduled for June 2015. In addition to restrictions on the oil, finance and banking sectors, and sanctions against individuals, the fate of a slew of lesser sanctions will be determined gradually under international monitoring of implementation by Iran of agreed upon conditions. In case of violations or nonfulfillment, sanctions are to be maintained or reestablished.

Despite the fact that the outcome of the negotiations has been a sensation for many, most Iranians I interacted with were confident a deal would be reached. At the opposite end, many Eastern Studies peers expressed strong doubts that anything new was on the horizon. After all, there have been attempts at negotiation prior to this, some of them rumored, that failed or never even got off the ground. Opinions vary as to what drove both sides to stay at the negotiating table and hammer out a consensus this time — amid accusations of Iranian non-disclosure, the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists, opposition to the talks within the Washington and Tehran political establishments and the usual heated rhetoric between the two, to name but a few factors that might have derailed the project. There is speculation that some in the West are keen to prevent a strong Russia-Iran alliance, which in recent years has often seemed on the verge of materializing but never quite lived up to expectations. Some observers go further, seeing in the agreement the beginning of a sea change in global alliances, perhaps at the expense of Saudi Arabia and Israel. On another level, many Europeans are famously unenthusiastic about the sanctions policy on Iran and may have exerted some pressure. And Washington’s experience in Iraq may have convinced it that Iran was an important regional player that should be cultivated rather than ostracized. Iran, for its part, while determined to hold out, was certainly weary of the partial strangulation. Most probable is that multiple factors coalesced, that the moment had simply come, with enough distance between the present and the Shah’s US-encouraged excesses, the aiding of Saddam Hussein’s army, the storming of the US Embassy and the long litany of complaints on both sides. 

Let us not forget Russia’s contribution to the success of the talks, which many point out, not without reason, could end up weakening Russia’s geopolitical position. The agreement may indeed be followed by increased rapprochement between Iran and the West and a larger role for Iran in the region and as a supplier of natural resources, perhaps as an alternative to Russia. But such zero-sum formulations would be the mark of a short-term game, and Russia rightly continued to aid and support the talks through to the end. Russia and Iran should use this as an opportunity to forge an alliance not out of necessity, from being backed into a corner, but through proactive strengthening of cultural and economic ties that will serve as a firmer, deeper foundation for relations in the long run.  


Published in Commentaries
Friday, 03 April 2015 12:20

The Nude Realities behind the Nuke Talks

The Nuke talks between the P5+1 and Iran had continued to inspire a settlement when the “self-imposed” deadline seemed insignificant. After all it was an arbitrary choice only to give time to another congressional decision regarding whether to impose and implement any additional sanctions against Iran or completely or partially lift the existing ones. Moving beyond the 31st of March only showed how committed both sides have been to the cause, and showed that even though opinions differ, the objectives of both parties are the same. In fact when a tentative settlement was announced on April 2nd, the compromise between Iran and the P5+1 further inspired hope for the June 30 meeting.


The Meaning of the “Significant Progress” is not an April’s Fool

No tricking and no wasting time on the way were desired. Iran and the P5+1 continued to be hard-liners at the beginning. They did not seem to give in or give up. However, even though the talks were still far from reaching a final result, according to the Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, as of April 1st there was already “significant progress”.

In Lausanne all aspects of the Iranian nuke program was scrutinized. The P5+1 on behalf of the world community they represent wanted to make sure  the scope of uranium enrichment Iran would be allowed to conduct, where stockpiles of enriched uranium should be stored, proposed limits on Iran's nuclear research and development. Iran demands the right to free research and development into advanced nuclear centrifuges after an initial 10-year period covered by the potential agreement expires.

Dismantlement of sanctions is linked to the concessions Iran is willing to make, in terms of time, enrichment and the centrifuge capacity as well as the transparency of the operation locations and operations in its nuke program. Although sure about the words of its opponents, Zarif still wants to see some action to save Iran from the painful economic sanctions. Especially the real smart ones like the ban on the “swift operations”, which cripples Iran’s foreign trade and pushes both Iran and its trade partners to engage in illicit operations to by- pass this difficulty, must be the first ones to be lifted. The P5+1 promises to determine the timing and conditions for the removal of sanctions, with the condition that if Iran fails to comply with the agreement sanctions are to be reemployed without any prior notification.

What More Does Iran Need to Do to Ensure the World?

It has long been the Iran against the West when it came to ensuring the world that Iran’s nuke program does not constitute any threat to its immediate neighborhood and to the world. It has civilian objectives and was launched to reduce Iran’s its own dependence on fossil fuels in terms of energy. In a country, where there is a rich capacity to employ advanced technology, nuclear energy can be used in other areas like nuclear medicine, and promises Iran to be a regional “health hub” within a decade or two.

All sides after the he April 1st meeting of Lausanne agreed that they are only a short distance away from the finishing line. Nobody nullifies the truth that it was a shoulder to shoulder advancement to the target. They all point out that a robust deal must be reached before they conclude talks. The agreement if reached needs to be verifiable too. The P5+1, the two among them being closer to the Iranian position is sure about solidness of the promises it is likely to give. It is Iran and its conducts, intentions, operations and rhetoric they are not so very sure about. 

A White House spokesman clearly verbalized on April 1st, what is expected of Iran immediately before the P5+1 gives the right signals to their respective governments to lift the Iranian sanctions one way or another. He said “the time has come for Iran to make some decisions." Setting parameters for the issues of concern to finalize the nuke talks in June still remains easier said than done. Russia and China have always seemed to be the most supportive of Iran. However, the US, Germany, France and Great Britain had seemed to have few more deep doubts, until on April 2nd when after a sleepless night both sides reached a comprehensive agreement: Iran will close some of the centrifuges in Fardow to reduce its nuke enrichment and sanctions will be gradually lifted to return the favor.

The Difference between the Nude Reality and the Nuke Reality

Beyond the technical details, which will always remain in the core of the negotiation process as the nuke reality, there are three nude realities also expected of Iran:

  • Stop the threats against Israel in, rhetoric and preferably recognize the Israeli state in due time;
  • Stop adding fuel to fire by arming and assisting armed Shiite militia to continue the sectarian warfare in the region. Stopping proxy wars is essential to reinstitute the peace and stability in the Middle East. 
  • Even though its engagement in the proxy war against the Sunni extremism in Iraq and Syria seem acceptable and helpful by all now, Iran’s direct verbal and physical threat against the Gulf States like the Saudi Kingdom, Bahrain and the Emirates are not.

Zarif made it clear that Iran has few doubts as well about the real intentions of the P5+1 by saying on April 1st, that "the progress and success of the talks depends on the political will of the other party,” Iran and its chief negotiator are fully aware of the fact that it is not only the nuke activity of Iran, which is negotiated on the table. In fact they also know what the P5+1 is absolutely sure of what is further expected of Iran.

Despite the interim agreement reached on April 2nd, for Iran the P5+1 and the entire UN community that stands behind it still needs to respond to the following inquiry:

  • When there are a half a dozen nuclear nations in the Middle East, including the Taliban-nested Pakistan why should Iran be suspected of going nuke for military purposes? If Pakistan is taken as an honest broker, why should not be Iran?
  • Does Iran seem like a suicidal nation to take the risk of its own as well when making of a nuclear military strike against a neighboring country in the Middle East?

If the P5+1  cannot bring genuine responses to such simple questions then Zarif’s point about who holds the political will and who does not for an ultimate settlement should be highly regarded.

Conclusion: The Truth and its Consequence

The most important truth at this historical juncture is that there is a solid interim agreement between Iran and its P5+1counterpart as of the beginning of April 2015. This agreement is going to be the guiding light for the upcoming negotiations towards the end of June.

There is also a reality at this point that no matter what the west is not likely to use the military option against Iran after the April 2nd interim agreement.  Furthermore after coming so far, even if a deal is not completed by June deadlines will be disregarded to ensure to keep the communication channels open. 

Neither of the truth and reality mentioned above can deny another truth that Iran is not the only country in the Middle East, which holds the nuke power. But it remains to be the only one suspected of having the potential to use of it for military purposes. The conservatives in the United States, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf nations and Israel do not want to accept Iran as an honest broker. On the other hand the hard-liners in Iran are also extremely wary of a final deal, if reached and do not pay much attention to how much sanctions harm the Iranian economy. The perception of danger seems stronger than the danger itself. This is another nude rather than the nuke reality. Therefore, in the process Iran would continue to acknowledge the world is that its nuclear program has purely peaceful purposes, mostly power generation, and it continues to demand the U.S., EU, and UN to lift sanctions swiftly, even if it is done in a gradual manner.

In the process, negotiations are likely to produce ultimately fruitful consequences if:

  • Iran stops threatening Israel, possibly recognize it, and stop assisting militia against the Gulf countries.
  • It continues to engage struggle against the Sunni extremism in Syria and Iraq, without making further claims in the Iraqi territory and the Iraqi economy.

There is also the naked truth that the P5+1 on behalf of the UN community under no condition would remove sanctions. The rule for reemploying them if Tehran fails comply with the deal is also set.

There is probably going to be another strongly emphasized reality or the demand of Iran from the P5+1 and the UN community, which has not been openly discussed in public, and that is unless the Saudi Arabia and some Gulf countries were also reprimanded for supporting Sunni extremism, it would be impossible to stop proxy wars and reinstitute peace and stability in the Middle East. 

Published in Tribune


We still believe that there is no purely military solution to the situation in Yemen.  And we, along with the GCC ministers whom the Secretary spoke to today, support political negotiations as the best way to resolve the crisis.  However, we also understand the Saudis’ concerns, especially given the Houthis’ failure to engage meaningfully in the political dialogue process.  And so in that regard, we understand and we support the action that they’ve taken.

– Jeff Rathke, the US State Department Spokesman

Interference by foreign militaries is very dangerous and deepens the crisis. 

– Hassan Rouhani, Iranian President

The United Nations continued to be engaged with the parties in a manner that neither gave legitimacy to those who used force to disrupt the political process nor diminished the legitimacy of the president and Government. 

– Jamal Benomar, special adviser of the UN Secretary General on Yemen.

The Saudi-led air strikes should stop immediately and it is against Yemen's sovereignty.<...> We will make all efforts to control crisis in Yemen.

– Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iranian Foreign Minister.

The Saudis cannot accept the idea of an Iranian-backed regime in control of Yemen, which is why they felt compelled to intervene the way they have.

– Philip Hammond, British Foreign Minister.

They might lead to some kind of confrontation between Iran and the Gulf. <...> Secondly, Yemen [could] be the second Syria in the region and it may even be divided again into west Yemen, dominated by the Shia population, and east Yemen, dominated by the Sunni. This is the worst scenario that could happen in the region. <...> Air strikes cannot determine the future of the war,” he said. “What would be decisive is the engagement of ground forces which are not at the scene yet. Air strikes can only harm the civilian population but not the Houthi militants who are applying asymmetric war tactics such as guerrilla warfare.

 Dr Firuz Yasamis, director of diplomacy at the American University of the Emirates


The Arab League Summit

He speaks about the problems in the Middle East as though Russia is not influencing these problems. <...> They speak about tragedies in Syria while they are an essential part of the tragedies befalling the Syrian people, by arming the Syrian regime above and beyond what it needs to fight its own people. <...> I hope that the Russian president corrects this so that the Arab world's relations with Russia can be at their best level. 

Prince Saud al-Faisal, Saudi Arabia Foreign Minister in response to the Vladimir Putin's letter addressed to the participants of the Arab League Summit

I call for the continuation of Operation Decisive Storm until this gang [the Houthis] announces its surrender, exits all occupied territories in the provinces, leaves state institutions and military camps," Hadi said.

– Yemen's President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi

This nation [Yemen], in its darkest hour, had never been faced a challenge to its existence and a threat to its identity like the one it's facing now. <...> This threatens our national security and [we] cannot ignore its consequences for the Arab identity. 

– Egyptian president Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi.

I call upon everyone to end military operations and stop the killing. <...>I call on everyone to resort to reason and initiate a ceasefire. I ask our sons not to be excited and to stop all violence in all provinces.

– Yemen's former-President Ali Abdullah Saleh 

I say to those who oppose or delay the arming of the Libyan army that you are giving an opportunity to Daesh terrorists to flourish in Libya and to spread beyond it.

– Aqila Saleh, President of Libya's internationally-recognised parliament.

I want to congratulate the Arabs in Israel, who united for the first time and received 13 seats. <...> This is a positive and important development which we support, despite the fact that we do not intervene in Israeli elections.

– Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority

Russia will continue contributing to the attainment of this goal [Palestine’s independence], working through bilateral channels and through multilateral channels, including in the ‘Quartet’ of international mediators.

– Vladimir Putin, Russian President (in his address to the participants of the 26th Annual Summit of the Arab League)


Six-party talks on the Iranian nuclear programme.

All unjust sanctions against the Iranian nation should be lifted. Lifting all sanctions is the main issue that can help us reach the final solution.

– Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (asserting that any nuclear deal must end in lifting sanctions). 

Unfortunately, we are seeing that the tragedy that is happening in this country [Yemen] is having an impact on the atmosphere of the negotiations.<...> We hope that the situation in Yemen will not bring about a change in the position of certain participants.

– Sergei Ryabkov, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister  

Published in Weeks-in-Quotes

Summary: This article examines the status of Iranian Kurds in the Islamic Republic of Iran and the new ethnic policies being implemented by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani as compared with those of his predecessors. The current situation in the Iranian border regions, where Shia-Sunni relations can be problematic, is also examined.


Given the ethnically heterogeneous nature of the Iranian population, state ethnic policy is a critical issue for national unity and security, and one fraught with pitfalls in terms of human rights. Attitudes and approaches within the Iranian political establishment vary and are continuing to evolve. Prior to the Islamic revolution, the Iranian government’s ethnic policy was based on the principle of a “united Iranian nation,” a principle devised partly with the aim of preventing separatist trends and preserving the territorial integrity of the country, and one which led to a degree of “Persianization” of minorities. After the establishment of the Islamic regime, this aim remained a priority, but state ethnic policy was reconfigured around the concept of the unity of the Muslim Ummah (article 11 of the Iranian Constitution). In the Constitution of Islamic Republic of Iran, the term “ethnic community” was replaced by “religious community.” Although the Constitution proclaims Ja'fari Islam as the official religion of Iran, other currents of Islam are also acknowledged, as well as other monotheistic religions. Despite the assumption of power by the Shia clergy, the new Iranian Constitution preserved the same principles of relations between the State and the confessional minorities as those defined in the first Iranian constitution adopted in the Qajar period at the beginning of the 20th century. Unsurprisingly, the new model for “Islamic social justice” being realized by the Shia clergy did not correspond to the aspirations of many ethnic communities in the country, who were not prepared to embrace the concept of the Islamic cultural revolution and rebuild their lives according to the new Shia-Islamic social and legal institutions.

Reliable statistics regarding ethnic minorities in Iran are not easy to come by, but it is generally estimated that around 7 million Kurds are living in Iran, or 8% of the total Iranian population. The majority of them practice Shia Islam (about 4 million), with slightly fewer Sunni among them; and with about 500,000 adherents of Yarsanism or Yarsan, and about 300,000 Yazidis. The latter reside on the territory of Kermanshah: Dalahu, Sarpol-e Zahab and Javanrud, and do not advertise their religious affiliation. According to Article 13 of the Constitution of Iran, freedom of religion among minorities is guaranteed only to Iranian Zoroastrians, Jews and Christians. The Sunni largely consider themselves a minority.

Kurdistan and Sistan-Baluchestan have historically been problematic regions for Iranian governments, and they doggedly remain so today. Although gradually improving, the economic situation in Kurdistan remains worse than in other regions. It is noteworthy that local industry is growing in Iranian Kurdistan, while Iraqi Kurdistan is primarily developing only its oil and construction industries. The Sunni factor plays an important role: Sunni Kurds consider themselves deprived in many ways, while Shia Kurds (to the South) are well integrated into Iranian society and economic life. Some Sunni Kurds complain that the authorities consider Iranian Kurdistan an “internal colony,” focusing myopically on its exploitable resources, i.e. oil.

Terrorist groups and activities in Iran are tied primarily to ethnic issues, and the majority of terrorist acts have taken place among the minorities of populated regions. In the past few years, the most intense violence has been witnessed in Kurdistan and West Azerbaijan: the “Party of Free Life of Kurdistan” (Partiya Jiyana Azad a Kurdistanê [PJAK]) and the “Kurdistan Workers’ Party” (Partiya Karkerên Kurdistanê) [PKK] are active. PJAK committed a number of terrorist acts in 2010 and 2011. These generally targeted Iranian military personnel. Teheran responded by launching a series of successful operations against PJAK that led to the arrests or liquidations of many of its members. Yet despite the success of these special operations, the situation in these regions has hardly been defused.

Recently, PJAK has shifted its main activities into Syria, lessening its presence Iran itself. As this development can hardly displease the Iranian government, some experts have voiced the opinion that PJAK has established a kind of a ceasefire with Tehran. 

But if acts of violence have waned, the informational offense continues. PJAK carries out propaganda activity mainly in prisons in Iran — quite the same as it did in 1979-1983 in Turkey before the beginning of combat operations — and the party enjoys great popularity among Iranian Kurds. PFLK, for its part, has organized satellite TV channels especially for Iranian Kurds, which the Iranian authorities try with varying degrees of success to control.

Kurds in Iran are increasingly concentrating on cultural education and propaganda. Cultural Kurdish centers are opening – and occasionally being closed by the Iranian authorities. The image of Iraqi Kurdistan plays an important role in the propaganda, as well as the fact that there are many educated Kurdish youth in Iran demanding the rights and respected they see as existing in Iraqi Kurdistan. To use historian Benedict Anderson’s term, an “imagined community” has formed between Kurds in the region. Satellite TV channels have played a particularly significant role in this.[1] 

Political demands follow on the heels of a strong cultural consciousness. A large human rights movement is also unfolding, especially due to Iranian state reprisals, including the executions of Kurdish activists. State crackdowns may have a deterrent effect on violence but they also further poison the situation — even among Kurds in neighboring countries. In Turkey, for instance, executions have been stopped. Many feel that, ultimately, harsh reprisals only aggravate the Kurdish problem and that perhaps members of PJAK and PFLK often provoke them. There is no shortage of those eager to sacrifice themselves for entry into the “pantheon of heroes.”

The Kurdish separatist movement in Iran seems to be receiving much of its impetus from the increased autonomy of Iraqi Kurdistan. The strengthened sense of ethnic identity among Iraqi Kurds has been spreading to Iran and to Turkey. Sunni Kurds in Iran present the most challenges in this respect — Sunni Kurds living in Kurdistan; Shia Kurds, in the Kermanshah region. The negative economic situation in the areas inhabited by Kurds both in Iran and Turkey further aggravates the situation. This combination of factors means that the Kurdish issue will remain a difficult one to regulate, and a worrying security threat for Tehran. But a successful Iranian state policy towards the Kurdish population, one that could somehow balance Kurdish aspirations with the need for security and territorial integrity, would greatly strengthen Iran’s position in the Middle East.

The general trend of growing Kurdish and regional nationalism was somewhat mollified Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s term as president, when the Kurdish separatist movement was rather quiet; the only real activity being conducted by Kurds outside of Iran. Ahmadinejad made a priority of reducing the antagonism in the regions toward the sate, and soon after his election began regularly visiting these outlying ethnic communities, particularly the most economically underdeveloped ones. He also had official cabinet and committee meetings there. Thus, Ahmadinejad was the first Iranian president successfully to attract the attention of various government institutions to these remote and underdeveloped regions of the country. What's more, his government invested a part of oil profits into their development, and the Majlis subsequently agreed to cover the needs of the regions using the Stabilization Fund and the National Development Fund.

While it would be misleading to view this positive evolution in ethnic policy without taking into account the continuing restrictions placed on ethnic minorities by Tehran; it would be equally misleading to ignore the external influences on ethnic tensions. No domestic policy exists in a vacuum, least of all in Iran, in which large communities of ethnic groups spill over the Iranian border into neighboring countries. Ethnic terrorism is not simply a reaction to the policies of the central government in Tehran. Indirect support of it is one of the means used by other regional and international players to pressure the Iranian authorities, and it is quite possible that the influence of the ethnic factor on the stability of social and political life of Iran may greatly increase in the future.

A prime example of this problem is the Sistan-Baluchistan region (ostan), the poorest in Iran. Agriculture is not well developed, and the climate is dry. The Shiite minority in the region lives primarily in Sistan; while the Sunnis live in Baluchistan. The Baluch have been pressing for autonomy for the ostan — the largest in Iran in terms of territory — within Iran, largely on religious grounds; which the government in Tehran has not been willing to grant. Around the 100th day of Rouhani’s presidency, militants crossed the border from Pakistan and cut the throats of 17 border guards, filming and posting the killings on the Internet. The Pakistani militant group “Jundullah,” heavily influenced by Wahhabism, is particularly active in the area; and so in response to the border guard killings, the next day the state executed 14 inmates in the prison of Zadedan, allegedly belonging to “Jundallah.” It turned out, however, that “Jaish ol-adl,” a Baluch separatist group, claimed credit for the murder of the border guards. The cycle of misdirected, tit-for-tat violence was not over: Soon thereafter Musa Nuri Gale-Nou, the attorney general of Zahedan was murdered. For alleged links to this killing, 10 were people arrested, two of them women. And so it may continue.

 Like Ahmadinejad and other Iranian politicians, Rouhani has not failed to recognize the problem. During his election campaign, he repeatedly declared that ethnic policy would be a top priority for his government, and indeed, he received most of his votes in the regions populated by ethnic and religious minorities. Shortly after taking office, Rouhani’s government put together an action plan for resolving ethnic issues:


1. Preparation of legislation for the full implementation of the Constitution — Articles 3, 12, 15, 19, 22, in particular — and the building of a "state of hope and reason" (a definition given by Hassan Rouhani himself).

2. Broad general public participation (regardless of language and religion) in the process of governing and the implementation of governance by "meritocracy" at all levels. 

3. Appointment of competent local representatives throughout the country to top posts in local and regional institutions.

4. Native language instruction for minorities in schools and universities in accordance with Article 15 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

5. Raise the level of awareness of culture and literature among various ethnic groups of Iran in order to bolster and preserve their ancient Iranian cultural heritage.

6. Respect of the rights of members of religious minorities, non-interference in their religious affairs.

7. Development of long-term and short-term programs (in the cultural, economic and social spheres), especially in depressed areas and border provinces affected by the Iran-Iraq war; the allocation of compensation funds for development in these regions.

8. Elimination of discrimination in all forms and guises.

9. End the practice of considering policy exclusively "from the point of view of national security" in relation to the various ethnic groups and cultures of Iran. Establish rational management in order to optimize the use of human and material resources.

In addition, Rouhani inaugurated the post — the first in Iranian history — of Special Assistant on Ethnic and Religious Minorities, whose duty it is to draw the public’s attention to these problems and meet with activists from ethnic community organizations. Ayatollah Yunesia was appointed to the post. 

The Ministry of Education of Iran has also established a special committee to address the issue of teaching the native languages of ethnic minorities. One of the bullet points in Rouhani’s ethnic policy program notes the need for socio-economic development in the provinces, first and foremost in depressed areas populated by ethnic minorities with the aim of eliminating the gap between the central regions and the periphery. 

Last year, Rouhani visited several ethnic regions and openly acknowledged the need for socio-cultural and economic change in these areas and the need to strengthen ties between Sunnis and Shiites. Shortly after his visit to areas with a Sunni majority, the Advisory Council of Sunnis was created.

It is clear that far from everyone supports Rouhani’s ethnic policies. The Academy of Persian Language and Literature (Farhangestan-e zaban va adabiyat-e farsi) excoriated the initiative for introducing ethnic languages into the educational system as “a serious threat to the Persian language and a conspiracy to reduce its significance” during a meeting with the Minister of Education and Science, Ali Asghar Fani. Several Majlis representatives likewise expressed opposition to the initiative.

It is important to remember that the ethnic policies proposed by Rouhani were also put forward by Khatami during his term as president, but resistance from the conservative opposition camp and Khamenei, the country’s supreme religious authority, the “rahbar,” was so strong that Khatami was unable to realize his plans. 

Approaches to the resolution of ethnic religious problems in Iran differ greatly in conservative and reformists camps. Reformers, including Rouhani, believe that in the framework of Iranian realities, ethnic groups must be granted more cultural and economic freedoms. Conservatives, who generally make up the Majlis and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, strongly oppose such measures. But the credibility of conservative policies has been eroded by their failure to bring about much change: the “mix and match” strategy, for example: Kurdish commanders of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps are sent to the regions with Baluch majority, and Baluchs are sent to Kurdish settlements.

Much depends upon the outcome of the confrontation between these two main currents in the contemporary Iranian political spectrum, and of course, on the position of the Rahbar, which in turn will depend on the degree to which Rouhani will be able to influence Rahbar.

The situation of the Kurds in the west of Iran is more vulnerable to ethnic conflict for the following reasons: they live in a very small area; they have a poorly developed economy; and there are few educational and medical institutions. Furthermore, Kurdish nationalists can easily find refuge in mountainous areas of Turkish Kurdistan or the Iraqi territories. Kurds are under political isolation and their presence in the social structure is very limited. They are greatly influenced by the situation of the Kurds in northern Iraq and southern Syria. It should be noted there are very few radical Islamists among the Kurds, as the national agenda for them is of paramount importance. 

And this begs the question that the Iranian political and general community is struggling with — what causes ethnic nationalism? Any attempt at an answer must take into account the structure of the distribution of power (economy, politics and culture), the historical experience of different ethnic groups (whether they have a history of self rule or of being ruled), the attitude of other countries or international forces, the geopolitical conditions of the life of the society and "neighbors" (Kurds in Turkey can influence Kurds in Iran), and the level of development of ethnic consciousness.

Ethnic nationalism is too vital a factor in the life of any country to be considered solely in terms of security; all the more so in Iran, located as it is at the crossroads of civilizations and ethnic groups. While peripheral regions can incite conflict for the sake of acquiring more power and concessions from the central government, and local leaders often exploit ethnic differences for their own political ends; the central government also provokes strife with its actions. If a weak center can lead to disintegration; and overbearing one can lead to rebellion.


[1] One recalls the central role satellite TV plays in the 2004 film “Turtles Can Fly,” set in a Kurdish refugee camp in Iraq and directed by Bahman Ghobadi, an Iranian citizen and ethnic Kurd.


Published in Research
Thursday, 19 March 2015 18:00

The Week in Quotes (16 March-22 March 2015)


As we have long said, there always has been a need for representatives of the Assad regime to be a part of that process. <...> It would not be, and would never be – and it wasn't what Secretary Kerry was intending to imply ­– that that would be Assad himself.

 – Jen Psaki, State Department Spokeswoman

The only way to put an end to the violence is via negotiations for a political solution, even if that makes talks with the Assad regime necessary.

– Frank-Walter Steinmeier, German Foreign Minister


Israeli Elections 

The results of the Israeli elections show the success of a campaign platform based on settlements, racism, apartheid and the denial of the fundamental human rights of the Palestinian people,

– Saeb Erekat, a member of the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s executive committee

Palestinians do not trust Israel on statements. They trust Israel on practice, and Palestinians have concluded much earlier that Netanyahu and his coalition are not at all interested in the concept of two states, regardless of what they say.

– Ghassan Al Khatib, a West Bank politician

Against all odds, we achieved a great victory for the Likud . . . I am proud of the people of Israel, who in the moment of truth knew how to distinguish between what is important and what is peripheral, and to insist on what is important.

– Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli PM


Terrorist Attack in Tunisia

Every Tunisian should feel directly threatened by what happened today. <...>And I think the people of Tunisia will respond as one man.

­– Beji Caid Essebsi, President of Tunisia 

 This deadly attack, which is quite deplorable, should not allow to derail from what many consider the transition from authoritarianism to a system of justice and respect for human rights, the most successful in the region.

– Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Deputy Director of Middle East and North Africa program at Amnesty International.

Extremist terrorist groups seek to undermine the experience of democratic transition in Tunisia and in the region and create the climate of fear among the citizens who yearn for freedom, democracy and peaceful participation in the democratic construction.

– The organizing committee of the World Social Forum.




Published in Weeks-in-Quotes
Thursday, 08 January 2015 02:00

The MidEast World: best of 2014

IMESClub presents you the 40-pages-length issue of "The MidEast Journal" – collection of the 2014 brilliant pieces of our eminent members.

The issue besides other pieces includes:

❖The IMESClub interview of the year: Interview with Bakhtiar Amin, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Foundation for Future, Former Human Rights Minister of Iraq. The interview was devoted to the Iraq, its fate, on the US role and etc.

❖Brilliant dossier on Russia-Algeria relations by Mansouria Mokhefi, Special Advisor on the Maghreb and the Middle East at Ifri, Research Associate at ECFR.

❖Another one interesting dossier on Russia-Iran relations by Lana Ravandi-Fadai 

The issue is available in PDF in one click.

▲(click the pic).


Les relations entre l’Iran et les Etats-Unis, si elles remontenthistoriquement à 1856, ne sont devenues véritablement actives qu’en 1943. Si les rapports avec le Shah sont bons, le renversement de Mossadegh en 1953 organisé par la CIA ternit leur image. La mise en place en 1979 de la République islamique s’organise sur fond de forte hostilité, les Etats-Unis étant qualifiés par l’ayatollah Khomeiny de Grand Satan. L’assaut donné à l’ambassade américaine à Téhéran par des « étudiants » et la détention en otages de 52 diplomates pendant 444 jours sont vécus comme une humiliation par l’opinion publique américaine. Les conditions d’installation au pouvoir, comme la volonté d’exporter la révolution et se mettre à la tête du « Front du refus », conduisent les Etats-Unis à développer une politique mêlant containment et sanctions, non sans parfois certaines incohérences. Le développement, à partir de 2005, d’un programme nucléaire suspecté d’avoir une finalité militaire renforce les Etats-Unis dans leur volonté de durcir leur position. Cependant quelques occasions de réconciliation sont manquées. L’élection de Rohani apporte une nouvelle donne et une opportunité pour régler les contentieux en cours, notamment le nucléaire. L’accord intérimaire du 24 novembre 2013 confirme cette évolution, même s’il ne règle aucun problème de fond. Mais une dynamique est créée. S’achemine-t-on vers une normalisation des relations, voire un Grand bargain ? Il existe certes une volonté politique aussi bien du côté d’Obama que de Rohani. Mais des obstacles demeurent : la défiance reste grande entre les deux pays ; la marge de manœuvre est étroite en termes de politique intérieure ; la négociation nucléaire qui s’ouvre est complexe et majeure en termes d’enjeu pour les deux parties ; de nombreux points de crispation existent, notamment l’appui donné par l’Iran au Hezbollah. En toute hypothèse un Grand bargain ne peut être que le fruit de négociations longues et laborieuses qui peut déboucher sur un nouvel équilibre des forces au Moyen-Orient.

Paper is published in compliance with author's permission.


Paper is available in one click: 

Published in Tribune
Wednesday, 14 May 2014 00:04

Russia stakes out Iranian market

Over the past few weeks, Russia has taken steps to develop its trade and economic ties with Tehran, which plunged to a record low of $1.59 billion last year. In 2013, according to Russian Minister of Energy Alexander Novak, this amounted to a reduction of 31.5%, a consequence of the unilateral US and EU sanctions imposed in mid-2012, which forced companies such as Lukoil and Gazprom Neft to leave the Iranian market.

The situation should have changed with the agreement reached between Russian President Vladimir V. Putin and his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rouhani, during the SCO Summit in Bishkek in September 2013, which caused a stir and under the terms of which 500,000 barrels per day of Iranian oil would be delivered in exchange for Russian goods and equipment. By rough estimates, that is 12% of the oil extractable daily in Iran.

Nothing was known, however, about concrete steps to put this agreement into practice until Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s visit last December to Tehran, during which ways to implement it were discussed. One of the items on the table appears to have been the price of the oil, given Moscow’s request for a discount. It was clear that, with the sanctions still standing, the problem would also likely be who would purchase the oil and make the payments and how, considering the threat of US sanctions. According to the Russian newspaper Kommersant, one of the possible options initially suggested was that Rosneft buy the oil. But at the beginning of April the Ministry of Energy decided to choose an authorized trading company which, as the newspaper source explained, “will be a company registered in Russia that — contrary to Rosneft —does not trade on the world market and is thus immune from pressure.” 

While it was undeniable that the Iranian side was interested in breaking the trade embargo and obtaining the goods it needed, analysts had to ponder the reasons guiding the Russian side. It was evident that Moscow was not moved by an urgent need to obtain energy carriers from its Middle Eastern partner. During one of the talk shows on the Russian TV channel RBC, participants were even asked the question: “Why should Russia buy Iranian oil?” Actually, back in February, Iranian Ambassador to Russia Mehdi Sanai suggested that, in the negotiations on the supply of Iranian oil in exchange for Russian goods, Moscow and Tehran might agree to invest in the construction of a second unit at the nuclear power plant in Bushehr.

Many Russian analysts were convinced that Russia, predicting the possibility of, if not a full, then at least a partial normalization of Iran's relations with the West and seeing a sharp increase in interest in Iran in Western business circles, set as a first priority the task to “stake out” a place for itself in the Iranian market. While the range of Russian products to be delivered to Tehran in exchange for oil is generally known, though not precisely defined (e.g., metallurgical products, machinery, power equipment and other goods), the basic parameters of the Iranian oil deliveries to Russia have not yet been revealed. It is unknown whether the sides have managed by now to resolve all the issues linked to this deal and come to a final agreement on its implementation.


Read the whole article: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2014/05/iran-russia-oil-exchange-goods-cooperation.html#ixzz31cymuXI6



Published in Tribune
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