TIME Iran

These 5 Facts Explain the State of Iran

Secretary of State John Kerry, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and others wait for a meeting at the Beau Rivage Palace Hotel on March 27, 2015 in Lausanne, Switzerland.
Brendan Smialowski—Reuters Secretary of State John Kerry, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and others wait for a meeting at the Beau Rivage Palace Hotel on March 27, 2015 in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Sanctions, demographics, oil and cyberwarfare

As leaders in the United States and Iran maintain laser focus on the ongoing nuclear negotiations, it’s valuable to take a broader look at Iran’s politics, its economy, and its relations with the United States. Here are five stats that explain everything from Iran’s goals in cyberspace to its views of Western powers.

1. Sanctions and their discontents

Sanctions have taken a heavy toll on the Iranian economy. According to the Congressional Research Service, Iran’s economy is 15 to 20% smaller than it would have been without the sanctions that have been enacted since 2010. They leave Iran unable to access nearly four-fifths of the $100 billion in reserves the country holds in international accounts. Iran’s oil output has fallen off a cliff. Four years ago, Iran sold some 2.5 million barrels of oil and condensates a day. Over the last year, the country has averaged just over a million barrels a day. Even as the exports have fallen and the price has plummeted, oil still accounts for 42% of government revenues. Iran’s latest budget will slash spending by 11% after accounting for inflation.

(Bloomberg, The Economist)

2. Cyber-spending spree

But despite the belt-tightening, Tehran has been willing to splurge in one area. Funding for cyber security in the 2015/16 budget is 1200% higher than the $3.4 million allotted in 2013/14. Up until 2010, Iran’s chief focus in cyberspace was managing internal dissidents. But after news of the Stuxnet virus—a U.S.-led cyberattack on Iran’s nuclear program—went public in 2010, Iran’s leaders shifted gears. According to one estimate, Iran spent over $1 billion on its cyber capabilities in 2012 alone. That year, it conducted the Shamoon attack, wiping data from about 30,000 machines belonging to Saudi oil company Aramco. In 2013, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard publicly declared that Iran was “the fourth biggest cyber power among the world’s cyber armies.”

(Global Voices, Wired, Strategic Studies Institute, Wall Street Journal)

3. New generation and old leadership

The median age in Iran is 28, and youth unemployment in the country hovers around 25%. Nearly seven out of ten Iranians are under 35 years old, too young to remember the Iranian revolution of 1979. But the country is controlled by older men, many of whom had an instrumental role in the revolution. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is 75 years old; there have been concerns about his health and Iran’s eventual succession plan. Iran’s Assembly of Experts is an opaque institution with huge symbolic importance: it is tasked with selecting and overseeing Iran’s Supreme Leader. The Assembly’s Chairman passed away in October at the age of 83. His replacement? Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi, who is…83 years old.

(New York Times, CIA World Factbook, BBC)

4. The feeling is mutual

Over 70% of Iranians view the United States unfavorably—and 58% have “very unfavorable” views. On the flip side, more than three-quarters of surveyed Americans have unfavorable views of Iran. But that’s a more modest stance than some other European powers: 80% of French and 85% of Germans have unfavorable views of Iran. According to recent polls, Iran is no longer considered “the United States’ greatest enemy today.” In 2012, 32% of those polled chose Iran, good for first place. In 2015, just 9% selected Iran, placing it fourth behind China, North Korea and Russia, respectively.

(Center for International & Security Studies, Pew Research Center, Vox)

5. Support for a deal?

Negative views of Iran haven’t undermined Americans’ desire to try and cut a deal: 68% of Americans favor diplomacy with Iran. It’s a bipartisan majority: 77% of Democrats and 65% of Republicans are in favor of talks. Iranians have mixed expectations: only 48% think that President Rouhani will be successful in reaching an agreement. But if we do see a final deal, a lot more than Iranian oil could open up. Western businesses would love to break into a country that is more populous than Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Israel, Bahrain, Lebanon and Jordan combined.

(Center for International & Security Studies, CNN survey, CIA World Factbook)

TIME diplomacy

U.S. and Iran Cite Progress in Nuke Talks, But Deal Is Unclear

The talks "have made substantial progress," Secretary of State John Kerry said

(LAUSANNE, Switzerland) — With 10 days to a nuclear deal deadline, top U.S and Iranian officials spoke Saturday of substantial headway, and Iran’s president proclaimed that agreement was within reach. But America’s top diplomat said it was up to Tehran to make the decisions needed to get there.

Iranian President Hassan Rohani said “achieving a deal is possible” by a March 31 target date for a preliminary accord that is meant to lead to a final deal by the end of June that would crimp Tehran’s nuclear programs in exchange for sanctions relief.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was more circumspect, as he spoke to reporters after six days of negotiations in the Swiss city of Lausanne. The talks, made “substantial progress,” he said, but “important gaps remain.

“We have an opportunity to get this right,” Kerry said, as he urged Iran to make “fundamental decisions” that prove to the world it has no interest in atomic weapons.

MORE: Diplomacy of Distrust in Iran

But Iran’s supreme leader warned against expectations that even a done deal would mend the more than three-decade freeze between the two nations in place since the Iranian revolution and siege of the American Embassy, proclaiming that Washington and Tehran remained on opposite sides on most issues.

“Negotiations with America are solely on the nuclear issue and nothing else. Everyone has to know that,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told a crowd in northeastern Iran on the first day of the Persian new year. “We do not talk with US over regional issues. In the regional issues, America’s goals are completely opposed to our goals.”

In a reflection of the delicate state of negotiations, other officials differed on how close the sides were to a deal.

Top Russian negotiator Sergey Ryabkov and Iran’s atomic energy chief Ali Akbar Salehi said in recent days that technical work was nearly done. But French officials insisted the sides were far from any agreement.

Kerry was departing later Saturday to meet with European allies in London, in part to ensure unity, before returning to Washington. Kerry said the U.S. and its five negotiating partners — Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia — are “united in our goal, our approach, our resolve and our determination.”

But France, which raised last minute objections to an interim agreement reached with Iran in 2013, could threaten a deal again. It is particularly opposed to providing Iran with quick relief from international sanctions and wants a longer timeframe for restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activity.

“France wants an agreement, but a robust agreement,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told French radio. “That is to say, an accord that really guarantees that Iran can obviously have access to the civil nuclear (program).”

“But to the atomic bomb? No.”

On Twitter on Friday, France’s ambassador to the U.S. called talk about needing a deal by March 31 a “bad tactic” that is “counterproductive and dangerous.” Gerard Araud called it an “artificial deadline” and said negotiators should focus instead on the next phase — reaching a complete agreement by the end of June.

In London on Saturday, Kerry and the European ministers said in a joint statement that any “solution must be comprehensive, durable and verifiable.”

“None of our countries can subscribe to a deal that does not meet these terms,” said the statement, which was read out by British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond.

Kerry said earlier in the day the U.S. wasn’t rushing into a pact, stressing that the latest stab at a diplomatic settlement with Iran has gone on for 2 ½ years. “We don’t want just any deal,” he said. “If we had, we could have announced something a long time ago.”

But, he added, decisions “don’t get any easier as time goes by.”

“It’s time to make hard decisions,” Kerry said. “We want the right deal that would make the world, including the United States and our closest allies and partners, safer and more secure. And that is our test.”

One encouraging sign is the apparent narrowing of differences on Iran’s uranium enrichment program. Tehran insists it wants to enrich only for energy, medical and research purposes, but much of the world fears it could turn the process toward making the fissile core of a nuclear warhead.

As the current round wound down this week, officials told The Associated Press that the United States and Iranare drafting elements of a deal that commits the Iranians to a 40 percent cut in the number of machines they use to enrich. The Obama administration is seeking a deal that stretches the time Tehran would need to make a nuclear weapon from the present two to three months to at least a year.

For Washington, the stakes are high if the talks miss the March deadline. The Obama administration has warned that a diplomatic failure could lead to an ever tougher dilemma: Whether to launch a military attack on Iran or allow it to reach nuclear weapons capacity.

A more immediate challenge may be intervention from Congress. If American lawmakers pass new economic sanctions on Iran, the Islamic Republic could respond by busting through the interim limits on its nuclear program it agreed to 16 months ago. Thus far, it has stuck to that agreement.

TIME diplomacy

Kerry Says ‘We Have to Negotiate’ With Assad to Stem War

Sunday marks four years of war in Syria

(SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt) — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says he would be willing to talk with Syrian President Bashar Assad to stem that nation’s violence.

In an interview with CBS News, Kerry says the U.S. is pushing for Assad to seriously discuss a transition strategy to quell the Arab country’s four-year civil war.

Kerry says, “We have to negotiate in the end.”

While previous efforts saw Assad’s government not engage on a concrete plan, Kerry says the U.S. is trying “to get him to come and do that.”

He says that may require additional pressure on Assad’s Iran-backed government, which is fighting Sunni rebels and Islamic State extremists.

TIME diplomacy

Knifed U.S. Ambassador Can’t Wait to Get Back to Work

South Korea’s president visited injured U.S. Ambassador Mark Lippert on Monday, who hospital officials say is itching to get back to work after being knifed in the face.

President Park Geun-hye told the diplomat that while she had herself been victim of a similar attack in 2006 and undergone surgery at the same hospital, “it is even more heart-breaking thinking that an ambassador had to go through the same thing.”

Lippert — who received a large gash on his face and injury to his arm in the attack last week — could be released from the hospital as early as Tuesday, according to hospital officials…

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

TIME Know Right Now

Know Right Now: Hillary Clinton Wants Emails Made Public

The former Secretary of State wants to release some of her emails to the public

Hillary Clinton said late Wednesday that she wanted her emails to be made available to the public, after coming under fire for exclusively using a personal email address while U.S. Secretary of State. Watch Know Right Now to catch up on the latest in this story.

TIME diplomacy

Iran’s Foreign Minister: We Believe We Are ‘Very Close’ to Nuke Deal

NAIROBI, KENYA - FEBRUARY 02: Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif attends Iran-Kenya business forum in Nairobi, Kenya o February 02, 2015. (Photo by Stringer/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Anadolu Agency/Getty Images Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif attends Iran-Kenya business forum in Nairobi, Kenya on Feb. 2, 2015.

"We don't believe nuclear weapons bring security to anybody, certainly not to us"

Iran has no intention of building a nuclear weapon, and the sooner the world recognizes that, the sooner there will be a deal aimed at curbing its nuclear capabilities in exchange for the lifting of crippling economic sanctions, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told NBC News.

“Iran is not about building nuclear weapons,” Zarif said in an exclusive interview with Ann Curry Wednesday. “We don’t want to build nuclear weapons, we don’t believe nuclear weapons bring security to anybody, certainly not to us.”

Zarif said his country’s nuclear ambitions were solely in the pursuit of “scientific advancement” and boosting national…

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

TIME Egypt

Canada Says Release of al-Jazeera Journalist in Egypt ‘Imminent’

Mohamed Fahmy, Baher Mohamed, Peter Greste
Heba Elkholy—AP From left: al-Jazeera English producer Baher Mohamed, Canadian-Egyptian acting Cairo bureau chief Mohammed Fahmy and correspondent Peter Greste appear in court in Cairo on March 31, 2014

Diplomats are trying to secure the 40-year-old's deportation to Canada

Canada’s Foreign Minister John Baird announced Monday that the release of Canadian-Egyptian journalist Mohamed Fahmy from an Egyptian prison was “imminent.”

Baird told Canada’s public broadcaster that diplomatic efforts to free Fahmy, who was al-Jazeera’s acting Cairo bureau chief, were going well but gave no specific time frame.

Fahmy, 40, was arrested in 2013 along with colleagues Baher Mohamed and Peter Greste for allegedly aiding the blacklisted Muslim Brotherhood. All three were sentenced to between seven and 10 years in jail.

Greste was released on Sunday and deported back to his native Australia. Mohamed remains in detention.

Fahmy has relinquished his Egyptian citizenship as a prerequisite to his deportation under a presidential decree that allows foreigners on trial to be returned to their home countries.

On Jan. 1, Egypt’s Court of Cessation overturned their sentences and ordered a retrial, but there is as yet no indication of when this will begin.

TIME Know Right Now

Know Right Now: President Obama And the Dalai Lama

The Dalai Lama will be appearing in public with Obama for the first time

TIME revealed on Thursday that the Dalai Lama will be attending the National Prayer Breakfast on Feb. 5.

But why is this going to be so significant — and what does China have to do with it?

Watch today’s Know Right Now to find out more.

TIME Cuba

Fidel Castro Sends Word That He’s Alive — and Cautiously Optimistic About Talks With the U.S.

El Capitolio, the National Capitol Building in Havana, Dec. 2014.
Yuri Kozyrev—NOOR for TIME El Capitolio, the National Capitol Building in Havana, Dec. 2014.

The former Cuban leader and lifelong revolutionary makes it clear that he won't stand in the way of diplomacy with Washington

The letter from Fidel Castro that surfaced on the front page of the state newspaper Granma on Tuesday served two purposes. The first was proof of life. When you’re the founder of a state and your physical condition is subject to almost constant rumor, you don’t arrange to be photographed holding up a copy of a current newspaper to prove that you remain alive. You remark on events that have recently transpired, and make that front page your own.

Which was of course the other thing the senior Castro, 88, accomplished: leaving his mark — however belatedly, guardedly and obtusely — on events that have largely been out of his hands since he handed over power to his brother Raúl in 2006, owing to failing health. Tuesday’s remarks were Fidel’s first since the momentous simultaneous declaration on Dec. 19 by Raúl and President Barack Obama that Cuba and the U.S. would begin to re-establish diplomatic relations, and work together toward removing the more than 50-year-old American economic embargo.

In the meantime a senior State Department delegation had already come to Havana on Jan. 21 and left amid smiles and mutual avowals of continuing the rapprochement. In his public letter Fidel was less effusive, but made it clear that he wouldn’t stand in the way of new diplomatic ties. “I don’t trust the policy of the United States, nor have I exchanged a word with them, but this does not mean I reject a pacific solution to the conflicts,” Castro wrote, in remarks addressed in his name to a student federation at the University of Havana. “We shall always defend the cooperation and friendship between all people, among them our political adversaries,” the letter went on. “With this spirit, I have fought and will continue fighting until my last breath.”

The tones of skepticism, even amid the outpouring of enthusiasm with which ordinary Cubans received word of the rapprochement, shouldn’t be surprising. After reaching out in vain to the Eisenhower Administration after Fidel and his fellow rebels ousted the U.S.-backed Cuban government in 1959, no leader faced more persistent efforts by the U.S. to remove him and undo his revolution. There were direct military attacks, planned assassinations and a long string of assaults by U.S.-backed surrogates spanning more than a decade. Castro’s resilience and increasingly proud defiance of Washington gave him unique standing on the world stage — and made him ever more reviled by the Cuban exiles in the U.S. who loathed his socialist system and often brutal repression of dissidents and rivals.

Today there’s no disputing who is in charge in Cuba. Nearly a decade after taking power, Raúl has brought in his own people, and gradually but steadily pushed for pragmatic changes that have eased the economic hardships that defined Cuban life in the years after the Soviet Union abruptly withdrew its wholesale support at the end of the Cold War. Fidel said as much in his statement, noting that as President, the 83-year-old Raúl “has taken the pertinent steps in accordance with his prerogatives and the powers given to him by the National Assembly the Communist Party of Cuba.” But opening to market forces also threatens the system of social equality that was a hallmark of the Castro regime — a risk that likely accounts for much of the wariness evident in Fidel’s missive.

Fidel, who hasn’t spoken in public in years, is clearly not well. He remains at home on his ranch on the western outskirts of the capital, his health widely believed to be fragile at best. After a flurry of rumors a fortnight ago that he had suffered a fatal stroke, he sent a letter to the soccer legend Diego Maradona, an old friend, saying he was very much alive. (The confusion was due in part to the very real death earlier this month of Fidel Castro Odinga, the son of Kenya’s opposition leader.) But as the embodiment of the Revolution, the Bearded One retains the power of paterfamilias status, and perhaps a good deal more, among ordinary Cubans.

“I’ve got a lot of faith in my government,” said Caridad Alfonso, 43, at a beer garden along the shore after finishing her day as a general practitioner in Havana. “We are Fidelistas. We love Fidel even though he’s not the President any more and we follow Raúl.”

But she welcomed the opening to the U.S., especially as framed by both Raúl and Obama and their diplomats, who make frequent mentions of mutual respect and sovereignty, as well as “profound disagreements.”

“Now we’re equal,” Alfonso said. “It’s a good beginning.” And Fidel Castro may be around to see the end as well.

TIME diplomacy

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo Planning Trade Mission to Cuba

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo arrives for his inaugural ceremony at One World Trade Center in New York on Jan. 1, 2015.
Reuters New York Governor Andrew Cuomo arrives for his inaugural ceremony at One World Trade Center in New York on Jan. 1, 2015.

It'll be one of the first high-profile visits by an American politician to Cuba since President Obama ended travel restrictions this week

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) is expected in his state-of-the-state address on Wednesday to announce he will lead a trade mission to Cuba in the coming months, according to a new report.

Citing an anonymous source, the Wall Street Journal reports that the second-term Democratic governor’s trip will be one of first visits to Cuba by a high-profile U.S. politician since President Obama struck down travel restrictions to the isolated Caribbean nation this month.

Read more: Viva Cuba Libre

Cuomo added Cuba as the first expected trip on his itinerary after the Obama administration released rules this week that travelers could visit Cuba without having to apply for a travel license.

Read more at the Wall Street Journal.

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