TIME Iran

Iran Nuclear Talks Extended After Negotiators Clinch Key Concession

Iran Nuclear Talks in Vienna
Siamek Ebrahimi—Anadolu Agency/Getty Images From left: U.S. National Security Council Senior Director for Iran, Iraq, Syria and the Gulf States Robert Malley, U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, U.S. Under Secretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, E.U. deputy foreign policy chief Helga Schmid, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi, Iranian Atomic Energy chief Ali Akbar Salehi, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's brother Hossein Fereydoun and Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Majid Takht Ravanchi attend the Iran nuclear talks at a hotel in Vienna, Austria on June 30, 2015.

With a decrease in Iran's uranium stockpile, the final agreement has been extended to July 7

(VIENNA) — Iran has complied with a key condition of ongoing nuclear talks by significantly reducing its stockpile of enriched uranium that could be used for atomic weapons, diplomats said Tuesday. Its failure to do so would have severely undermined the U.S. and other powers trying to clinch a long-term nuclear accord with Tehran over the next several days.

The news came as the State Department announced the extension of an interim nuclear agreement that was set to expire Tuesday night, the original deadline for a final deal. The preliminary measures have been prolonged to July 7 “to allow more time for negotiations to reach a long-term solution … on the Iran nuclear issue,” spokeswoman Marie Harf said.?

Uranium can be used to generate energy, or as the fissile core of a nuclear weapon, depending on its enrichment level. Under a preliminary deal reached in November 2013, Iran agreed to cap its stockpile of lower-enriched uranium at a little more than 7.6 tons and transform any remainder into a form that experts say would be difficult to reconvert for arms use.

Although amounts were permitted to fluctuate, Iran had to fully comply by Tuesday. And as of only a month ago, the U.N. nuclear agency reported its stockpile at more than 8 tons, leading to fears that it would not meet the target.

Iran’s compliance will be officially made public Wednesday in a new report by the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, the diplomats said. It will show that Tehran met the requirement to render harmless any additional uranium it has enriched over the last 20 months, thus taking its stockpile back to an acceptable level. The diplomats spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly on the still confidential report.

Talks in Austria’s capital restarted Tuesday after a one-day interruption, with Iran’s chief diplomat returning from Tehran and insisting he had a mandate to finalize a nuclear agreement. The promise came despite increased signs of backtracking by his country’s supreme leader and an acknowledgement by all sides that no pact would be reached by their self-imposed deadline.

The diplomacy has reached a “very sensitive stage” but progress is possible, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said. Asked by a reporter about his day of meetings at home, he said: “I already had a mandate to negotiate and I am here to get a final deal and I think we can.” He then continued discussions with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

Zarif returned with Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran’s atomic agency, who had missed earlier sessions due to illness, an indication of Iran’s desire to accelerate talks. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov joined the gathering later Tuesday.

The negotiators hope to clinch an accord curbing Iran’s nuclear program for a decade in exchange for tens of billions of dollars in relief from international economic sanctions. But significant disagreements persist, not least over the level of inspections on Iranian sites, how quickly the West will roll back sanctions, and what types of research and development Iran will be permitted to conduct on advanced nuclear technology.

On Monday, U.S. officials suggested that backsliding by Tehran’s negotiators may need several more days to resolve. In recent weeks, as well, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has issued a series of red lines that appear to renege on a framework for a deal his representatives agreed to three months ago in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Asked if he was encouraged by the restart of talks, Kerry said only, “We had a good conversation.” The secretary of state, hobbled by a broken leg he suffered a month ago, has kept a low public profile since arriving in Austria last week.

Tuesday had originally been envisioned as the culmination of a 20-month process to assure the world Iran cannot produce nuclear weapons and provide the Iranian people a path of out of years of international isolation. But officials said over the weekend they were nowhere near a final accord, and Zarif flew back to his capital for further consultations.

The U.S., France and Iran have said there is no new target date for a deal, but that another in a series of long-term extensions wasn’t being contemplated. American officials say the talks will likely stretch through the end of the week, possibly longer.

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Associated Press writer George Jahn contributed to this report.

TIME Iran

Iran Nuclear Talks to Continue Past June 30 Deadline

U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and U.S. Under Secretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman meet with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif at a hotel in Vienna. Kerry is joining negotiations from six powers and Iran seeking an agreement under which Tehran would curb its nuclear program in exchange for relief from economic sanctions that have crippled its economy. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
Carlos Barria—Reuters U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and U.S. Under Secretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman meet with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif at a hotel in Vienna on June 28, 2015.

The U.S. wants fuller access to nuclear facilities than Iran is prepared to give

VIENNA (AP) — A senior U.S. official acknowledged Sunday that Iran nuclear talks will go past their June 30 target date, as Iran’s foreign minister prepared to head home Sunday for consultations before returning to push for a breakthrough.

Iranian media said Mohammed Javad Zarif’s trip was planned in advance. Still, the fact that he was leaving the talks so close to the Tuesday deadline reflected his need to get instructions on how to proceed on issues where the sides remain apart — among them how much access Tehran should give to U.N. experts monitoring his country’s compliance to any deal.

The United States insists on more intrusive access than Iran is ready to give. With these and other disputes still unresolved the likelihood that the Tuesday target deadline for an Iran nuclear deal could slip was increasingly growing even before the U.S. confirmation.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met in Vienna for their third encounter since Saturday. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius are also in Vienna, and their Russian and British counterparts were to join later. China was sending a deputy foreign minister in a building diplomatic effort to wrap up the negotiations.

For weeks, all seven nations at the negotiating table insisted that Tuesday remains the formal deadline for a deal. But with time running out, a senior U.S. official acknowledged that was unrealistic.

“Given the dates, and that we have some work to do … the parties are planning to remain in Vienna beyond June 30 to continue working,” said the official, who demanded anonymity in line with State Department practice.

Asked about the chances for a deal, Federica Mogherini, the European Union’s top diplomat, told reporters: “It’s going to be tough … but not impossible.”

Steinmeier avoided reporters but told German media earlier: “I am convinced that if there is no agreement, everyone loses.”

“Iran would remain isolated. A new arms race in a region that is already riven by conflict could be the dramatic consequence.”

Both sides recognize that there is leeway to extend to July 9. As part of an agreement with the U.S. Congress, lawmakers then have 30 days to review the deal before suspending congressional sanctions.

But postponement beyond that would double the congressional review period to 60 days, giving both Iranian and U.S. critics more time to work on undermining an agreement.

Arguing for more time to allow the U.S. to drive a harder bargain, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — a fierce opponent of the talks — weighed in on Sunday against “this bad agreement, which is becoming worse by the day.”

“It is still not too late to go back and insist on demands that will genuinely deny Iran the ability to arm itself with nuclear weapons,” he said.

The goal of the talks involving Iran and the U.S., Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia is a deal that would crimp Tehran’s capacity to make nuclear weapons in exchange for sanctions relief. Iran insists it does not want such arms but is bargaining in exchange for sanctions relief

On Saturday, diplomats told The Associated Press that Iran was considering a U.S.-backed plan for it to send enriched uranium to another country for sale as reactor fuel, a step that would resolve one of several outstanding issues.

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Associated Press writer Ali Akbar Dareini in Tehran contributed to this report.

TIME Iran

Why the Nuclear Experts Who Sent an Open Letter to Obama Are Really Talking to Iran

Ali Khamenei
AFP/Getty Images Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, addresses country's top officials during a meeting in Tehran in which he restated his country's red lines for a nuclear deal with world powers on June 23, 2015.

In the Iran nuclear talks, your intended audience isn't always who you think it is

Much is made of how skillful the Iranians are at negotiating—and they are. But the Americans aren’t bad either, at least by the evidence of the latest news from the nuclear talks: an open letter signed by 18 former U.S. officials and experts, including five former advisers to President Obama, warning the president against accepting a deal that fails to include certain vital elements, such as inspections of Iranian military bases and ensuring that relief from sanctions comes only after Iran complies with an agreement.

It’s not the kind of thing you see much in American foreign policy—a group advisory like this, setting out red lines and reminding the nation’s leader of his obligations. You do, however, see it all the time somewhere else—in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Iran’s news media is lousy with these things: Sober, sage proclamations directed to the pinnacle of the political leadership. People talk about the opacity of Iran’s governing structure, and it’s true that between the Council of Guardians, the Assembly of Experts and the Expediency Council—just to name three of Iran’s non-elective bodies —there are more moving parts than a Rube Goldberg mousetrap. But that doesn’t mean things are opaque—just complicated. Ultimate power may rest with the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, but his own political survival requires consultations with the groups and individuals who make up his own political base, and a sound reading of the larger Iranian society that ultimately will find a way to hold him accountable. So decisions by Iran’s leaders often take a long time to gestate, and sometimes even longer to emerge.

But that process is more public than you’d think for an official theocracy. Iran has a lot of newspapers, several TV stations and its share of news sites. Most may be linked to the state, but they fairly throb—or pulse, at least—with the words of a governing structure talking to itself. Most of the chatter is in Persian, of course, but it’s all public. That means it has to be read, and the State Department has people just across the Persian Gulf, in Dubai, to follow a lot of it. State quietly pays people in Iran to translate even more, so that folks back in Foggy Bottom can read it too. (“Intelligence” is a sexy word, but the CIA itself says that up to 95 percent of what it knows it finds out by reading the papers—known in the spy game as “OSINT,” for Open Source Intelligence.)

The point, though, is not what American officials read, but what Iranian officials read: “The Public Statement on U.S. Policy Toward the Iran Nuclear Negotiations Endorsed by a Bipartisan Group of American Diplomats, Legislators and Experts,” the heading of the open letter compiled by the impressive, and impressively bi-partisan group assembled by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a think tank. It’s the kind of discourse that speaks to Iranians, relatable and familiar. Which is fortunate, because while its authors addressed it to President Obama, the real audience was Khamenei and the rest of the government of Iran.

The June 30 deadline for a final nuclear pact is just days away, and Khamenei on June 23 delivered a speech that cast the entire enterprise into doubt—reinforced the next day with a helpful chart listing “Major Red Lines in Nuclear Negotiations,” posted on Twitter with the words “Red Lines” in red type. His timing was impeccable. The Leader pounced six days after Secretary of State John Kerry showed a bit of weakness, suggesting publicly that in a final deal Iran might not have to account for past research on a nuclear weapon.

Knowing when to exploit an opening is, of course, one mark of a formidable negotiator. But another is speaking to the other side in a language it understands—which is exactly what the U.S. side is doing with its own Open Letter.

MONEY The Economy

Iran Deal’s Sanction Plan Could Affect Oil Prices

An Iranian nuclear deal could bring an influx of oil, but when and how sanctions are lifted could also affect prices.

The deadline for a nuclear deal is June 30, which could lead to the lifting of sanctions on Iran. Oil is believed to make up 80% of Iran’s exports, and current sanctions have chopped those exports in half. Iran could potentially add another 800,000 barrels of oil a day to the market within six to nine months, according to Robin Mills, an energy strategist for Manaar Energy. Even though the potential for pumping oil in Iran is strong, deal makers are pushing for sanctions to be lifted gradually instead of immediately.

Read next: Gas Prices Have Probably Peaked for the Year

TIME Iran

Why the Iranian Leader’s Rhetoric Does Not Mean Nuclear Negotiations Are Doomed

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's conditions set out in a speech to officials on Tuesday night appear to contradict April's agreement

With the clock ticking towards the June 30 deadline for a comprehensive international agreement on Iran’s nuclear program, the country’s Supreme Leader has come up with a set of red lines that potentially undermine the prospects of a deal.

The conditions set out by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in a speech to senior officials on Tuesday night appeared to be at odds with an interim agreement secured in Lausanne in April with the so-called P5+1 — the United States, France, Britain, Russia, China, and Germany.

The international community is seeking a formula that would ensure Iran’s peaceful nuclear program is not diverted towards making a bomb. Tehran insists it has no such ambition. An agreement would set out the scope of Iran’s nuclear program, codify an inspection regime and deal with a timetable for lifting economic sanctions.

Khamenei’s key demand was that international sanctions against Iran, which Western negotiators credit with having forced the leadership to the negotiating table, must be lifted as soon as an agreement is signed.

Iran wants to get its hands on up to $150 billion in frozen assets as soon as possible, while the West wants to hold back to ensure Tehran is abiding by the deal. It might prove difficult to reinstitute international sanctions, which would require agreement among governments, once they had been lifted.

Khamenei said Iran should not have to await until the International Atomic Energy Authority had verified that it was meeting its side of the deal. Tehran was skeptical about whether the IAEA was either independent or fair, he said.

“Lifting of sanctions should not be tied to Iran’s execution of its commitments,” he said. “It should not be said that you carry out the commitments, then the IAEA verifies so that the sanctions will be lifted. We will never agree with it.”

That could be a deal-breaker for the P5+1 where distrust of the Iranians is on a par with Tehran’s distrust of the West.

On a more positive note, Khamenei said Iran had always been willing to give something in return for a lifting of sanctions, “provided the nuclear industry is not stopped and not damaged.”

Khamenei pitched his red lines in familiar anti-American terms, insisting that Washington’s principle objective was to destroy Iran’s peaceful nuclear industry while keeping sanctions in place.

Elsewhere, he referred to Iran’s past readiness to compromise. Iran had been ready to pay the price if America kept its word. “However, they started making excessive demands and breaking their word.”

In a positive note for international negotiators looking for a final agreement next week, Khamenei did not step back from his commitment to supporting the talks, stressing that Iran viewed a fair deal as a good one. As the man with the final say on the issue, he also took pains to praise the work of the country’s nuclear negotiators.

The other “red lines”, which the P5+1 are also likely to baulk at, were Khamenei’s rejection of a 10-12 years freeze on nuclear research and development, and his refusal to accept foreign inspections of the country’s military sites, something he already publicly rejected a month ago.

The Supreme Leader’s address may have been pitched as much at domestic hardliners as at the outside world. Opponents of the government’s negotiating strategy continue to pay lip-service to the desirability of a deal, but have lost no opportunity to accuse Iranian negotiators of being ready to offer too many concessions.

Khamenei said he was not against criticism, which could be helpful. “However, it is a fact that it is easier to criticize than to take action.”

His “red lines” clearly have support in parliament, whose members on Tuesday overwhelmingly supported near-identical conditions. With parliament pressing for a final say on any nuclear deal, the government was quick to respond that members of parliament were acting outside their competence.

The Supreme Leader’s intervention may be part of a classic Iranian pre-talks gambit, designed to up the pressure on its fellow negotiators. It came well short of closing the door on a comprehensive deal. He even hinted that “red lines” might be moveable.

“Every Iranian official,” he said, “while stressing the red lines, is after a sound agreement – namely a fair deal in accordance with Iran’s interests.”

TIME Iran

Iran Hardens Nuclear Negotiations Stance Ahead of Deadline

Ali Khamenei
AFP/Getty Images Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, addresses country's top officials during a meeting in Tehran in which he restated his country's red lines for a nuclear deal with world powers on June 23, 2015.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei says that Iran will not agree to limit its nuclear research or allow inspections of military sites

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s top leader has hardened his stance in nuclear negotiations with world powers as a deadline for a final deal rapidly approach, saying he rejects a long-term freeze on nuclear research and wants to ban international inspectors from accessing military sites.

The comments by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who repeatedly has backed the Islamic Republic’s negotiators amid criticism from hard-liners, may give his diplomats little room for concessions ahead of the June 30 deadline. They also directly challenge the U.S., especially his demand that Iran only will sign a final deal if economic sanctions are first lifted.

Iran’s parliament already has passed a bill that, if ratified, will ban access to military sites, documents and its scientists as part of any future deal. The bill must be ratified by the Guardian Council, a constitutional watchdog, to become a law.

Speaking Tuesday night in comments broadcast on Iranian state television, Khamenei called demands Iran halt the research and development portion of its nuclear program “excessive coercion.”

“We don’t accept 10-year restriction. We have told the negotiating team how many specific years of restrictions are acceptable,” Khamenei said. “Research and development must continue during the years of restrictions.”

Khamenei accused the U.S. of offering a “complicated formula” for lifting sanctions. He added waiting for the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency to verify its cooperation would take too long.

“Lifting sanctions can’t depend on implementation of Iran’s obligations,” he said.

Khamenei also said he rejects any inspection of military sites or allowing its scientists to be interviewed. Iran’s nuclear scientists have been the targets of attacks before both inside the Islamic Republic and elsewhere.

The U.S.’ “goal is to uproot and destroy the country’s nuclear industry,” he said. “They want to keep up the pressure and are not after a complete lifting of sanctions.”

In a statement Sunday, the U.S. State Department said inspections remain a key part of any final deal.

Tehran is negotiating with the U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany over its contested nuclear program. The talks are focused on reaching a final accord that curbs Iran’s nuclear program in return for the lifting of economic sanctions.

Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, such as power generation and medical research. The West fears Iran could use it to finally build an atomic bomb.

Negotiations likely will begin in earnest in the coming days in Europe. On Wednesday, Iran’s official IRNA news agency reported that deputy foreign ministers Abbas Araghchi and Majid Takht-e-Ravanchi had resumed talks with Helga Schmidt, a deputy of European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini. It did not elaborate.

 

TIME Iran

Is the Iran Nuclear Deal Good for the U.S.?

It buys needed time

International negotiators led by the U.S. and Iran must resolve a number of critical issues to reach a comprehensive nuclear agreement by the self-imposed deadline of June 30. But the debate in Washington has already become polarized. Supporters of the emerging final agreement assert that it shuts down Iran’s nuclear-weapons program. Opponents claim it paves the pathway for an Iranian bomb. Supporters hope that the deal will empower Iran’s pragmatic factions to pursue reform. Opponents–and U.S. allies and partners in the Middle East–fear the deal will fuel Tehran’s support for terrorism and ambition to dominate the region.

The truth is more complicated–and more unknown. Under the tentative deal, Iran’s production of plutonium–one of two kinds of fissile material needed for a nuclear weapon, along with enriched uranium–is constrained indefinitely. In addition to modifying the Arak heavy-water research reactor so that it cannot produce significant quantities of plutonium, Iran is committed to not building a reprocessing facility, which is necessary to separate plutonium from spent nuclear-reactor fuel.

The constraints on uranium enrichment are less rigorous and less permanent. Iran is required to reduce its enrichment capacity–fewer centrifuges and a smaller stockpile of low-enriched uranium–so that the breakout time to produce a bomb’s worth of weapons-grade uranium is extended from the current estimate of a few months to about a year. Iran could still operate several thousand first-generation centrifuges and research more advanced centrifuges. After 10 years, the limits on enrichment capacity begin to ease, allowing Iran to deploy more advanced centrifuges and reduce breakout time. After 15 years, the constraints are entirely lifted, though more vigorous inspections and monitoring will remain in place for 20 to 25 years.

Critics argue that the U.S. could get a better deal–fewer centrifuges, longer delays, more intrusive inspections–with tougher bargaining tactics and more sanctions. But this course of action is uncertain. We intensify sanctions, and then Iran intensifies nuclear activities. It is unknowable whether this ultimately leads to a better deal or Iran’s moving closer to a bomb. But as a practical matter, the U.S. cannot walk away from the tentative agreement that it has negotiated and expect to enlist international support for more sanctions, unless Iran reneges or balks on the bargain.

The emerging nuclear deal with Iran buys time–at least a decade, and maybe more. It does not end the threat. Assuming a nuclear agreement is successfully implemented, the U.S. must take advantage of that time to contain Iran’s regional ambitions, encourage political change in Iran–as best we can–and seek a more fundamental decision by Iran to forgo its pursuit of nuclear weapons.

Samore is the executive director for research at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government


This appears in the June 29, 2015 issue of TIME.
TIME Iran

No, the Iran Nuclear Deal Will Not Be Good for the U.S.

Iran will get too much

Once Iran learned how to make a nuke, there wasn’t much chance for a really good and reassuring deal on the nuclear issue. The agreement being negotiated now may well be the least bad of the terrible options available to slow Iran’s nuclear program. But we should be clear-eyed about what else we may be getting from this deal: a richer and stronger Iran, one pushing for a Middle East more hostile to the U.S.–and one that will still retain the capacity to build nuclear weapons.

It’s the cruelest of ironies that this issue is now the pathway offering Iran a way in from the cold. It would be fine if the agreement could truly end Iran’s ability and motivation to have a nuclear-weapons option. But it hardly lays to rest those concerns.

Iran will agree to what will likely be a smaller, more easily monitored nuclear program. But there can be no real assurance, let alone guarantee, that this will be the “forever” deal Secretary of State John Kerry referred to. What is guaranteed–what will be the new normal in the Middle East–is that Iran will emerge as a state with the right to enrich uranium and continue R&D while maintaining some nuclear infrastructure. Iran has played us and its card well, profiting from sanctions relief without abandoning its nuclear-weapons aspirations, let alone its repressive policies at home or its expansionist aims abroad.

The Obama Administration argues that regardless of Iran’s behavior in the region, constraining Tehran’s nuclear program is important in its own right. But Iran is not Japan, a nuclear threshold state that respects international principles. It’s impossible to separate the nuclear issue from Iran’s regional aspirations. Keeping the world on edge about Iran’s nuclear-weapons capacity and ensuring that the U.S. remains an adversary are still vital for the regime’s survival–and this agreement isn’t going to make Iran a moderate anytime soon.

The nuclear deal will bring Iran money and legitimacy in a turbulent region. Iran has influence on just about every issue the U.S. confronts in the Middle East: Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, ISIS, Yemen. And while Tehran is prepared to cooperate when that serves its interests, its view of the region is not Washington’s. Far from constraining Iran’s power, the deal may well enhance it as it directs more resources to its Iraqi Shi’ite, Yemeni Houthi, Syrian Alawite and Hizballah allies and surrogates. And the opening to Iran has alienated Saudi Arabia and Israel, U.S. allies who fear Iran’s rise.

Were there alternatives to the deal? Tougher sanctions and negotiating? A more compelling threat to use force or more aggressively confront Iran’s allies? We’ll never know. The deal may succeed in slowing Iran’s nuclear program. But sooner or later, some future U.S. President is bound to confront a richer, stronger, more influential Iran, one with nuclear weapons still within its reach.

Miller is a former Middle East negotiator and adviser in Democratic and Republican administrations

TIME Iran

Iran Launches Its First Government-Backed Dating Website

Iran Daily Life
Behrouz Mehri—AFP/Getty Images Iranian couples walk and sit on the bank of Zayandeh roud river in the historic city of Isfahan, Iran on April 21, 2015.

An estimated 11 million young Iranians are single and the government believes it should encourage marriage

(TEHRAN, Iran)—Iran has launched its first official matchmaking website, hoping to encouraging millions of singles to marry.

In a ceremony marking the launch of the site on Monday, Deputy Minister of Youth Affairs and Sports Mahmoud Golzari said the estimated 11 million young unwed Iranians “justified the launching of the site.”

The website, Hamsan.Tebyan.net, provides a platform for singles to post their profiles and specify what they are looking for in a potential spouse.

A board of mediators matches applicants after reviewing their age, education, wealth and family background.

The traditional role of Iranian families and local matchmakers in arranging marriages has declined in recent years. Under the Islamic Republic’s constitution, the government is obliged to encourage marriage.

TIME Iran

Iranian Women Can Now Attend Men’s Volleyball Matches

Daily Life In Tehran
Kaveh Kazemi—Getty Images Women in black chador watch men playing volleyball in Taleghani park on October 11, 2013 in Tehran, Iran.

"Limited number" of women can also attend basketball, handball and tennis matches

Iran has eased up its strict gender segregation laws to allow women to attend some men’s sporting events — although not soccer, the country’s most popular sport.

Volleyball, basketball, handball and tennis matches will be open to a “limited number” of women attendees, mostly family members of players, Iran’s Vice President for Women and Family Affairs Shahindokht Molaverdi told the Associated Press. Soccer, swimming and wrestling matches, however, would remain no go zones.

Molaverdi expressed hope that the modest reforms would forestall a showdown with regime hardliners, who gained worldwide attention after authorities arrested a British-Iranian for attending a men’s volleyball match last year.

“If it practically happens a few times, the concerns will be completely removed and it will be proven that allowing women to watch men’s sports matches is not problematic,” she said.

Read more at the Associated Press.

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