TIME Iran

Rights Group Urges Iran to Release Detained American Journalist

Washington Post Iranian-American journalist Jason Rezaian, right, and his Iranian wife Yeganeh Salehi, who works for the the National, an UAE newspaper, during a Foreign Ministry weekly press conference in Tehran on Sept. 10, 2013 EPA

Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian and three others have been detained for one week at an undisclosed location

Iran should immediately free or charge the three journalists, including Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian, who were detained a week ago in Tehran, says Human Rights Watch (HRW).

“Iran’s abysmal record on press freedom and this spate of arrests raises a red flag,” HRW’s deputy Middle East and North Africa director Eric Goldstein said in a statement. “The burden now is on Iran’s judiciary to quickly investigate and order their release unless there is hard evidence that they have committed substantive crimes, not merely exercised their right to free speech.”

Four unidentified agents arrested Rezaian, his wife Yeganeh Salehi, an unnamed photojournalist and her spouse in Rezaian’s home on the night of July 22, Rezaian’s mother Mary Breme Rezaian told HRW. Three days later, the head of Tehran’s judiciary Gholamhossein Esmaeili said that Rezaian had “been detained for some questions,” offering no further explanation.

Iranian authorities have not disclosed where the four are held, allowed them access to legal counsel or permitted visits by Swiss consular officials, who represent U.S. interests in Iran. Rezaian’s mother says that if her son is not provided with his blood medication, his health is being compromised.

Rezaian, the photojournalist and her spouse are dual American and Iranian citizens, according to the Post, while Salehi, an Iranian journalist for United Arab Emirates–based the National, is an Iranian who has applied for U.S. permanent residency. Over the past two months, Iranian authorities have also arrested or summoned at least seven local journalists for questioning or to serve lengthy prison terms. Reporters Without Borders stated on July 25 that Iran is currently detaining “65 journalists and netizens in prison — five of them foreign nationals.”

“These latest arrests, coming hard on the heels of other cases of arrest and imprisonment of journalists, suggests that little has changed with respect to freedom of expression almost a year after President Hassan Rouhani swept to power on a promise of reform,” Goldstein said. “Rouhani may have little control over all-power security, intelligence, and judicial apparatus, but silence in the face of such repression is deafening.”

TIME Iran

Despite a Crackdown, Iranian Fashion Keeps Pushing Boundaries

Iranian fashion
Tehran fashion houses are pushing boundaries in Tehran ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images

In the latest case of Iranian authorities cracking down on fashion they deem “un-Islamic,” a famous clothing design institute called “Khaneh Mode” or Mode House was shut down last week in Tehran. The fashion designer had caused a controversy last month when it held a show with models wearing coats which appeared to be made of the Iranian flag—minus its religious symbols. Nor did it help that the show had allowed men among its audience, which violates conservative Islamic taboos.

This was followed by intense reaction from conservative politicians and religious groups, who cited the show as yet another violation of Islamic mores and traditions, which in turn forced the government to react. “This fashion show did not match the regulations of the Fashion and Clothes Management Workgroup and therefore we have taken legal action,” said Hamid Ghobadi, the workgroup’s secretary according to the official ISNA news agency. “The Khaneh Mode institute has been shut down until further notice.”

The workgroup, which was created by an enactment of parliament, is tasked with organizing Iran’s emerging fashion industry and making it compatible with Islamic standards. It is headed by a deputy minister of Iran’s Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance and its members are mostly government officials, with a handful of representatives from the fashion industry. Pictures of the show first emerged on Iranian websites in late June and showed men among the audience—until recently was unheard of in the Islamic Republic. The young female models, who wore white leggings, sported loose coats in the green, white and red tricolor of the Iranian national flag.

Iran’s fledgling fashion industry has begun to evolve in recent years, with shows on the rise. Most of these shows have permissions from the authorities but also underground shows are on the rise which depict more risqué dresses and even lingerie. However, until recently all shows for female clothes were held behind closed doors with no men allowed inside. The audience was also not permitted to take pictures or film.

Following the furor of religious and conservative groups the designers, Khaneh Mode immediately tried to do damage control with a statement on their website apologizing for having inadvertently offended anyone and reaffirming their commitment to “National and Islamic values.” Nonetheless, the authorities acted a few days later and shut them down.

Javid Shirazi, the director of the fashion house, told TIME in Tehran that that “we are completely committed to working within Iran’s native and Islamic framework and we tried to observe these in our show. Inviting men to view shows is permitted since last year so long as the clothes completely cover the body of models and models do not catwalk but walk in a normal and modest manner.”

The shutting down of the fashion house is just the latest instance of an endless tug of war between authorities and women in Iran, one that has been fought since an Islamic dress code was enforced in the aftermath of the 1979 revolution. This clash comes to the forefront every summer, when the latest female attire trends pick up with a tendency towards shorter and skimpier coats and ever tighter legwear, which has been epitomized this year in leggings.

The authorities react every year by escalating their “Morality Patrols.” The outcome is a cat and mouse game between more fashionably dressed women and the authorities. The results can be bizarre—women sporting trendy attire will sometimes take taxis from one side to the other side of squares and junctions just to bypass the morality police.

But over time the will of Iranian women has slowly but surely prevailed, with acceptable dress these days now far beyond the harsh codes of the first years of the revolution, when practically no makeup was tolerated and anything less than a chador—a loose robe that covers the body from head to toe—was frowned upon. And with the election of the more moderate Hassan Rouhani as president last year, many hope that the authorities will relax their strict stance on what women can wear in public.

Officially there has been no relaxation, in fact the authorities have tried everything they could think of to counter it. But in practice it’s a losing battle.

“Since last year there’s been a transformation in the framework of the permits we can get and what we can do,” said Shirazi, who sounded upbeat in spite of the closing of his business. “With the great potential this country has and the great desire young Iranians have, there is a bright future for the fashion industry in Iran, and this [the shutting down of Khaneh Mode] is just necessary experience we need to gain to go ahead.”

TIME Middle East

Hamas Still Has Some Friends Left

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses his supporters at parliament in Ankara, Turkey, July 22, 2014.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses his supporters at parliament wearing a Palestinian keffiyeh, in Ankara, July 22, 2014. Burhan Ozbilici—AP

Though Egypt has turned its back on Hamas, other countries are coming in from the cold

With the fighting in Gaza intensifying daily, the ruling militant group Hamas is finding itself pushed to the limit. Trying to match Israel’s vast military might is an impossible task, and even finding the resources to launch rocket attacks against Israeli targets could only be achieved by heavy foreign investment.

But which country wants to invest in Hamas? The West certainly doesn’t. The militant Palestinian organization has been a firm fixture on the United States’ Foreign Terrorist Organizations list since 1997. Hamas’ only hope is its neighbors in the Arab world.

Hamas has two clear allies, according to Middle East experts: Qatar and Turkey. Both have given Hamas their public support and financial assistance estimated to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

“Qatar also hosts Hamas’ political bureau which includes Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal,” says Shashank Joshi, Senior Research Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute. “Qatar has a long history of providing shelter to Islamist groups, amongst them the Muslim Brotherhood and the Taliban.”

Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party, which came to power in 2002, supports what Joshi calls “other neo-Islamist allies.” Though the Turkish government explicitly rejects the label “Islamist”, their social conservatism is inspired by an Islamic ideology that Hamas shares. Last year, Meshaal visited Turkey and met with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan for several hours.

Both Qatar — one of the world’s richest states — and Turkey are powerful allies to have, but Hamas might wish for more support given the breadth of the Arab world. It once had it, too. Hamas used to be strongly allied with both Iran and Syria, with the former giving Hamas an estimated $13-15 million a month as recently as 2011, as well as long-range missiles. Hamas’ political bureau used to be based in the Syrian capital of Damascus before its move to Qatar in 2012.

But relations cooled dramatically with Iran and Syria amid sectarian divisions following the outbreak of the Syrian civil war. Iran, a Shia-majority country, backed the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad whose Alawite faith is a branch of Shia Islam. Hezbollah, a powerful Shia Islamist group based in Lebanon, also took Assad’s side.

However Hamas, a Sunni-led faction, sided, as most of the Arab world did, with the rebels. Cue Tehran cutting their allowance, Hezbollah allegedly ordering Hamas members out of Lebanon, and Hamas packing their bags for Qatar.

“Iran’s relationship with Hamas was always problematic,” says Chris Doyle, director of the Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding. “Hamas is a Palestinian Sunni group and Iran is Shia. Nevertheless, Hamas was their entry into the issue of Palestine.”

Seeking to regain its influence over this issue, Iran has attempted to foster a reconciliation with Hamas over the last 18 months. Farwaz Gerges, professor on the Middle East at the London School of Economics says the conflict in Gaza is the reason. “The current crisis has brought a kind of rapprochement between Iranian leaders and Hamas.”

Hezbollah too, Gerges notes, has invited Hamas back into the fold. On Monday, the Hezbollah-owned television channel Al Manar reported that Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah, praised Meshaal for “the persistence of the Hamas resistance.” The TV station added he “strongly supported their rightful demands to end the current battle.”

Gerges is quick to point out that this doesn’t signal “a return to the warm days of the Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas leaders.” However he adds: “Out of this particular crisis, a new realignment might happen.” That may sound like good news for Hamas, but there’s another Arab country that is of late vehemently opposed to it. That would be Egypt, the largest and most influential country in the Arab world and the one responsible for drafting a potential cease-fire.

From 2012 to 2013, Hamas enjoyed Egypt’s munificence under the leadership of former President Mohamed Morsi, a longtime member of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood of which Hamas is an offshoot. When Morsi was ousted last year and replaced with Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, Hamas knew the good times were over.

“The most devastating thing that has happened to Hamas is the ousting of Mohamed Morsi,” comments Gerges. Sisi, whose government has orchestrated a violent crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, destroyed Hamas’ tunnel network into Egypt and closed the border crossing at Rafah, devastating Hamas’ finances. The United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, two of Egypt’s financial backers, are also hostile to Hamas. Like Egypt, they view the Muslim Brotherhood as a clear domestic threat — and Hamas is guilty by association.

But perhaps Hamas doesn’t need Egypt. As the death toll continues to rise in Gaza, there is a groundswell of public sympathy across the Arab world for the group.

“Hamas in terms of people on the street is at the height of its political power in every single Arab country with the exception of Egypt,” says Gerges. “The longer the conflict continues, the more they gain in popularity. And for Hamas, what really matters is the public pulse.”

TIME Iran

Washington Post Correspondent Reportedly Detained in Tehran

A Nov. 6, 2013 photo shows Jason Rezaian, a Washington Post reporter, at the newspaper in Washington Zoeann Murphy—Washington Post/AP

The motive and identities of the people responsible for detaining Jason Rezaian, his wife and two other Americans remain unclear

Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian, his wife Yeganeh Salehi and two American citizens appear to have been detained in Iran this week, the newspaper and U.S. officials reported on Thursday.

“We are deeply troubled by this news and are concerned for the welfare of Jason, Yeganeh and two others said to have been detained with them,” said the Post’s foreign editor Douglas Jehl in a statement.

Jehl said that the newspaper had received “credible reports” that the four people were detained in Tehran on Tuesday evening, but it is unknown who did it and why.

Rezaian has been the Post’s correspondent in Tehran since 2012 and holds both American and Iranian citizenship. Yeganeh, who is a correspondent for United Arab Emirates–based the National, is an Iranian citizen who has applied for U.S. permanent residency. The two other American citizens who were detained are freelance photojournalists and haven’t yet been identified by officials.

American journalists have been detained and imprisoned in Iran before. In 2009, freelance journalist Roxana Saberi was convicted for espionage, but successfully appealed her eight-year sentence and was released after four months. The same year, freelance journalists Shane Bauer and Sarah Shourd were imprisoned after straying over the Iranian border when vacationing in Iraqi Kurdistan. After intense diplomacy, Shourd was released after one year, while Bauer and his friend Josh Fattal were released in 2011.

Hamid Babaei, a spokesman for the Iranian mission to the U.N., told the Post in an email that Iranian diplomats are looking into the detentions of Rezaian, Yeganeh and the two photojournalists.

[Washington Post]

TIME Iran

Why Iran Believes the Militant Group ISIS Is an American Plot

A fighter of the ISIL holds a flag and a weapon on a street in Mosul
A fighter of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) holds an ISIS flag and a weapon on a street in the city of Mosul, Iraq, on June 23, 2014 Reuters

Conspiracy theories are nothing new in the Middle East, but the latest to come from Tehran is a self-protecting mechanism that could ultimately backfire

Iran’s English-language daily newspaper, the Tehran Times, recently ran a front-page story describing the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria’s (ISIS) June offensive in Iraq as part of a U.S.-backed plot to destabilize the region and protect Israel. The story was an English translation of a scoop by the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), which cited a purported interview with National Security Agency (NSA) leaker Edward Snowden.

According to the article, Snowden had described a joint U.S., British and Israeli effort to “create a terrorist organization capable of centralizing all extremist actions across the world.” The plan, according to IRNA, was code-named Beehive — or in other translations, Hornet’s Nest — and it was devised to protect Israel from security threats by diverting attention to the newly manufactured regional enemy: ISIS.

The IRNA story appears to build on, or may have even started, an Internet rumor that has assumed truthlike proportions through multiple reposts and links. No mention of a “hornet’s nest” plot can be found in Snowden’s leaked trove of U.S. intelligence documents, and even though Snowden has not publicly refuted the claim, it is safe to assume that the quoted interview never took place. (IRNA has been known to report stories from the satirical Onion newspaper as fact.) Yet Iranian government officials and independent analysts in Iran alike cited IRNA’s report as definitive proof of ISIS’s American and Israeli origins.

Back when former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was in power, it was not unusual to see IRNA echoing specious wild theories dreamed up by the leadership, but since the more moderate Hassan Rouhani assumed the presidency in August 2013, the security establishment’s nuttier fantasies of deranged plots against Iran have been largely reined in. That is, until ISIS spilled out of Syria and started setting up camp next door in Iraq, where Iran has tight ties with the Shi‘ite-dominated government in Baghdad.

Even before the Snowden scoop made the rounds of Iran’s media, military commanders, citing their own sources of intelligence, struck a similar theme. On June 18, Fars News Agency quoted Major General Hassan Firoozabadi, Chief of Staff of Iran’s armed forces, saying that ISIS “is an Israel[i] and America[n] movement for the creation of a secure border for the Zionists against the forces of resistance in the region.” That Iran’s media, along with its leaders, is focusing on ISIS’s supposed external backers — as opposed to its origins in local terrorist groups, al-Qaeda and popular discontent in both Syria and Iraq — demonstrates a concerted effort to streamline the national narrative in order to project power and preserve stability. As an example of another Western plot against Iran, ISIS can be managed — so goes Iran’s thinking. But as a new, potentially more destabilizing threat on Iran’s borders, ISIS poses challenges that the leadership is still struggling to understand and respond to. The only problem is that dismissing ISIS as a Zionist conspiracy could end up undermining Iran far more than any supposed American plot.

In its previous incarnation as an Iraqi al-Qaeda affiliate, ISIS has been responsible for thousands of Shi‘ite deaths in terrorist attacks since its formation in 2003. The group’s current success in Iraq — by some estimates it now controls a third of Iraq’s territory, including the city of Mosul — has as much to do with its considerable funding and military prowess as it does the weaknesses of the Iraqi state, led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, an Iranian-backed Shi‘ite who has alienated Iraq’s large Sunni minority. Now that ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has declared himself the emir of a caliphate spanning the Syrian-Iraqi border, he continues to advocate violence against members of the Shi‘ite sect, whom he calls apostates, and has threatened to destroy Shi‘ite holy sites in an attempt to ignite an Islamic sectarian civil war. That would likely cause the Iranian-backed government in Baghdad to collapse, forcing Iran to send in troops and sparking a region-wide conflagration.

Yet Iranian government officials refuse to accept that there is a sectarian root to ISIS’s agenda, or that ISIS was able to advance in part because of Sunni discontent. When American leaders suggested that al-Maliki’s Shi‘ite chauvinism may have played a role in rallying Sunni support for the ISIS advance into Iraq, and suggested he step down, Iranians saw it as a direct threat to their influence. “When ISIS started advancing into Iraq, the first thing the Americans said was that Maliki should be changed,” says Hossein Shariatmadari, editor in chief of the government-owned conservative daily Kayhan. “Maliki was democratically elected, so what does he have to do with it? Nothing. The Americans wanted to cut the ties between Iran and Iraq.”

Instead Iran has declared the group a region-wide terrorist threat that funded and peopled by outsiders, including the U.S., Saudi Arabia and other Gulf monarchies. So far Iran says it has not gotten directly involved in Iraq, though it is prepared to do so if necessary. (Official statements aside, there is significant evidence of Iranian support in the form of military weaponry, assistance and training, if not troops on the ground.) But if Iran does take a hand in the battle against ISIS, it will do so in the name of fighting terrorism — and not for the cause of supporting its Shi‘ite ally in government.

That’s a canny move that could explain, in part, the government line, says a Western diplomat in Tehran. To go in with an overtly sectarian agenda would invite a regional backlash that could harm Iranian interests and threaten the state. “It is in the best interest of Iran to present this group as terrorists, because that way no one can accuse Iran of backing Shi‘ites against a Sunni movement,” says the diplomat.

But if Iran continues to back Maliki against the will of a disgruntled, powerful and armed Sunni minority in Iraq, it could still invoke a backlash all the same. Which might explain why the government line also plays up the American and Mossad angle a familiar trope. If it all collapses, Iran can still blame the West for the debacle, says the diplomat. “If Iran can convince its people that there is a plot against the country that must be countered, while at the same time providing a narrative of counterterror to the world, they are protecting their interests and hedging their bets at the same time.”

Why IRNA had to concoct something so obviously fictional as a fake Snowden interview to bolster the narrative is still unclear. Even Shariatmadari, editor of Kayhan, is mystified. “I thought this interview was strange too, because all this happened after Snowden had access to those documents,” he tells TIME. Nonetheless, he ran the story on his front page as well.

— With reporting by Kay Armin Serjoie / Tehran

TIME Iran

A Side Effect of Iranian Sanctions: Tehran’s Bad Air

An overview of Tehran, July 7.
An overview of Tehran on July 7, 2014 Kiana Hayeri for TIME

Air pollution has decreased significantly since sanctions were temporarily lifted in January. As Iran and the U.S. attempt to hammer out a comprehensive nuclear deal before the July 20 deadline, the capital city’s newly cleaner air hangs in the balance 

When the U.S., the U.N. and Europe implemented, in 2010, one of the harshest sanctions regimes ever seen globally to curb Iran’s suspected development of a nuclear-weapons program, it was widely expected that the country would soon fall to its knees. Instead, Iran absorbed the blow, and though weakened, has managed to keep its economy afloat.

The sanctions all but stopped international financial transactions, limited military purchases, reduced the import and export of petroleum products and significantly curtailed trade — but you wouldn’t know it by walking the bustling streets of Iran’s capital of Tehran. According to economist Saeed Laylaz, Iran imported $3 billion worth of European luxury cars last year, triple the number before sanctions. Grocery stores are packed with all kinds of American products: from Coca-Cola to Snickers candy bars to Duracell batteries, while electronics shops even in small towns proudly display the full range of Dell, Hewlett-Packard and Apple products — even the iPhone 5S. The sanctions didn’t hurt Iran, say Iranians; they merely amplified an economic crisis wrought by government mismanagement in the preceding years.

About the only place where the impact of sanctions is visible is in the skies above Tehran. Iran may have the fourth largest proven petroleum reserve in the world, but it refines little of its own product, depending instead on imports of fuel from Europe. Sanctions cut those commodities off, sharply reducing supplies of gasoline. In order to keep Iran’s 26.3 million cars, trucks and motorcycles on the road, government officials were forced to convert petrochemical factories into ad hoc refineries, an expensive and inefficient process that produces a low-grade fuel choked with pollutants.

The results were devastating. Already home to some of the world’s most polluted cities, Iran saw a dramatic increase in the air pollution that contribute most directly to ill health, according to a worldwide World Health Organization assessment released in 2013. It is impossible to definitively link the impact of sanctions to the rising rates of childhood asthma cases and lung disease documented by Iran’s Health Ministry over the past four years — the concurrent increase in car ownership may also play a role. But when some sanctions, including those on the import of gasoline, were lifted in January under an interim agreement that proffered relief in exchange for substantial negotiations over the scope of Iran’s nuclear program, the impact was visible.

In June 2013, the pollution in Tehran was so bad that the mountains surrounding the capital could not even be made out from the 13th floor of a hotel popular with journalists in the city center. A year later, however, the last vestiges of winter snow could be spotted high on the mountains to the north of the city. “Sanctions significantly contributed to pollution, and particularly the kinds of pollution that are damaging to health,” says Rocky Ansari, an economist and sanctions expert at Cyrus Omron International, a firm that advises international companies on investing in Iran. Even before the sanctions were lifted, he says, the government was working on improving refining capacity in the country, but the international decision to clear the way for increased imports of refined fuel was a huge boost. “Now that hardly any petrol from petrochemical factories is being used, the pollution has reduced, and already people can breathe better air.”

That may be the case, but many Iranians are still holding their breath. The interim agreement ends on July 20, and a comprehensive deal that limits Iran’s ability to produce nuclear weapons in exchange for a permanent lifting of sanctions is still in doubt. Iran says its nuclear program is purely for peaceful purposes, but a long history of subterfuge when it comes to international inspections has raised doubts about the country’s true intentions. The U.S. wants to see a sharp reduction in Iran’s ability to enrich nuclear fuel to weapons grade; Iran says it will not submit to overly onerous limits on its nuclear energy program.

The temporary agreement can be extended by up to six months, a point raised by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius on the sideline of talks in Vienna on July 13. “If we can reach a deal by July 20, bravo, if it’s serious,” he told reporters, according to Reuters. “If we can’t, there are two possibilities. One, we either extend … or we will have to say that unfortunately there is no prospect for a deal.” Should the talks fail, as with several previous attempts to strike a deal, the U.S. is likely to lead the call for even tougher sanctions, risking more conflict in a region already in turmoil — and further darkening the skies above Tehran.

— With reporting by Kay Armin Serjoie / Tehran

TIME Iran

Iranian Sanctions Have Cost U.S. Economy Up to $175 Billion, Study Says

From left: Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif meets with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry during talks between the foreign ministers of the six powers negotiating with Tehran on its nuclear program, in Vienna, on July 13, 2014.
From left: Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif meets with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry during talks between the foreign ministers of the six powers negotiating with Tehran on its nuclear program, in Vienna, on July 13, 2014. Jim Bourg—AFP/Getty Images

National Iranian-American Council (NIAC) report finds tens of billions of potential export revenue lost

U.S. sanctions against Iran don’t just hurt the Islamic Republic, they also have an impact on the U.S. economy—to the tune of as much as $175.3 billion since 1995, according to a new study.

Western powers have been sanctioning Iran since the mid-1990s over its sponsorship of terrorism and, lately, its pursuit of nuclear power and possibly weapons. The restrictions on trade and exports have had a “crippling” effect on the Iranian economy, according to Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif.

But according to the National Iranian-American Council (NIAC) report, the impact has also been felt on those handing out the sanctions — particularly the U.S. The report found the U.S. had lost between $134.7 and 175 billion in potential export revenue since 1995, after examining decades of bilateral trade patterns between Iran and its 25 largest trading partners, plus Mexico, due to its high level of trade with the U.S.

The report also finds an average of between 51,000 and 66,000 lost job opportunities in the U.S. every year since 1995. Texas and California are likely the biggest losers in terms of lost employment, the study found. Among European nations, Germany was the biggest potential loser, with between $23.1 and $73 billion in missed economic opportunities.

The study comes as Western powers are working to reach a deal with Iran that could reduce sanctions in exchange for a scaling back of its nuclear program. Its authors said the Obama administration should consider the true cost of sanctions during talks in Vienna.

“The arguments in favor of sanctions, or against a deal that entails sanctions relief, are debatable. But any debate over whether to exchange sanctions relief for limitations to Iran’s nuclear program would be incomplete at best and misleading at worst if it does not address the cost of this policy,” the report reads.

The report’s authors said they didn’t wish to cast opinions on U.S. foreign policy, or evaluate whether the sanctions were “worth the cost or not.”

“[The study] only seeks to ensure that the cost of sanctions is recognized as America approaches the moment when it must decide whether to exchange the sanctions for nuclear concessions or continue the economic warfare,” the report reads.

TIME Nuclear Talks

Kerry, Top Iranian Diplomat to Hold In-Depth Talks Over Nuclear Negotiations

From left: Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif meets with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry during talks between the foreign ministers of the six powers negotiating with Tehran on its nuclear program, in Vienna, on July 13, 2014.
From left: Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif meets with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry during talks between the foreign ministers of the six powers negotiating with Tehran on its nuclear program, in Vienna, on July 13, 2014. Jim Bourg—AFP/Getty Images

Secretary of State John Kerry will hold in-depth discussions Monday with Iran's top diplomat in a bid to advance faltering nuclear negotiations.

(VIENNA) — Secretary of State John Kerry will hold in-depth discussions Monday with Iran’s top diplomat in a bid to advance faltering nuclear negotiations, with a deadline just days away for a comprehensive agreement.

The scheduled talks come a day after Kerry and the foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany failed to reach a breakthrough on uranium enrichment and other issues standing in the way of a deal that would curb Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for the end of nuclear-related sanctions on Tehran.

The top officials took turns meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif, and each gave an assessment describing significant gaps between the two sides. Russia and China sent lower-level officials to Austria’s capital for this week’s gathering.

Six months ago, the six world powers and Tehran gave themselves until July 20 to conclude what is supposed to be a multi-decade agreement that sets clear limits on Iranian activity and locks in place an international monitoring regime designed to ensure that the Islamic republic cannot develop nuclear weapons.

But the interim agreement also provides the option of an additional six-month window for hammering out a full accord, though officials have suggested a shorter extension may be agreed upon.

Kerry’s second day of talks will continue his efforts to gauge “Iran’s willingness to make the critical choices it needs to make,” according to a senior State Department official.

The official didn’t say how long Kerry’s discussions with Zarif would run, but indicated a “potentially lengthy conversation” lay ahead. The official wasn’t authorized to be quoted by name and demanded anonymity.

On Sunday, British Foreign Minister William Hague said no breakthrough had been reached. But Kerry said he was not giving up.

“We’re working, we’re working, we just got here,” said Kerry, chiding reporters asking about progress as the day’s meetings wound down.

Zarif said no problems had been resolved “but I think we have made some important headway.”

Iran says it needs to expand enrichment to make reactor fuel and insists it does not want atomic arms. But the U.S. and others fear Tehran could steer the activity toward manufacturing the core of nuclear missiles. Washington is leading the charge for deep Iranian enrichment cuts.

Germany’s Frank-Walter Steinmeier and France’s Laurent Fabius left Sunday, a few hours after they arrived. But Hague joined Kerry in staying on for another day.

The show of Western unity notwithstanding, Kerry’s presence was most important. With the most significant disputes between Washington and Tehran, his visit gave him a chance to discuss them directly with Zarif.

Both face difficult internal pressures.

Iranian hardliners oppose almost any concession by moderate President Hassan Rouhani’s government. In the U.S., Republicans and Democrats have threatened to scuttle any emerging agreement because it would allow Iran to maintain some enrichment capacity.

Outside the negotiations, regional rivals of Iran, including Israel and Saudi Arabia, are extremely skeptical of any arrangement they feel would allow the Islamic republic to escape international pressure while moving closer to the nuclear club.

Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi suggested any extension would be relatively short, saying “there is not much willingness” by either side to go a full six months. He, too, spoke Sunday of “huge and deep differences.”

TIME Iran

Kerry Warns ‘Significant Gaps’ Remain on Nuclear Deal With Iran

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry waits for the start of a meeting with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier in Vienna
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Vienna, July 13, 2014. Heinz-Peter Bader—Reuters

Secretary of State arrives in Vienna for talks as a senior U.S. administration official says Iran won't budge from "unworkable and inadequate" position on enrichment

Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Vienna Sunday to participate in nuclear negotiations with Iran, and attempt to salvage a deal that officials say is not close at hand.

“We have some very significant gaps still, so we need to see if we can make some progress, and I really look forward to a very substantive and important set of meetings and dialogues,” said Kerry, who will meet with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Sunday, as well as officials from France, Germany and the U.K, according to a U.S. State Department official.

“It is vital to make certain that Iran is not going to develop a nuclear weapon, that their program is peaceful,” Kerry said.

An interim agreement last November between Iran and a group of powers known as the P5+1 (the U.S., the U.K., France, Germany, China and Russia) halted the expansion of Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for eased sanctions. The deadline to reach a final agreement is July 20, a goal that Obama officials sounded hopeful about reaching earlier this year.

But the tone in Washington has recently turned more pessimistic, and many experts now expect a six-month extension of the deal as the two sides struggle to strike a longer-term bargain.

Iran is pushing for a much greater enrichment capability than the U.S. is interested in granting, a senior U.S. administration official said on Saturday. “On some key issues, Iran has not moved from their, from our perspective, unworkable and inadequate positions that would not in fact assure us that their program is exclusively peaceful,” said the official, who noted that Sunday’s meetings are not about discussing the extension.

“All you had to do is listen this week to the public comments coming from some in Iran’s leadership to see that we are still very far apart on some issues, and obviously, on enrichment capacity,” the official continued. “The numbers we’ve seen them putting out publicly go far beyond their current program, and we’ve been clear that in order to get an agreement, that their current program would have to be significantly reduced.”

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on NBC’s Meet the Press Sunday that his country “doesn’t see any benefit in Iran developing a nuclear weapon” and will continue to demonstrate its commitment to not developing a nuclear weapons program.

-With reporting by Michael Crowley

TIME Foreign Policy

Officials Say Iran Is Hamas’ ‘Enabler’ in Fight Against Israel

PALESTINIAN-ISRAEL-GAZA-CONFLICT
A picture taken from the southern Israeli Gaza border shows a militant rocket being launched from the Gaza strip into Israel, on July 11, 2014. Menahem Kahana—AFP/Getty Images

Tehran's fingerprints are all over Hamas's rocket arsenal, officials say

In a reminder of the Middle East’s intertwined nature, the latest violence between Israel and Hamas has U.S. and Israeli officials lamenting the role of a key actor hundreds of miles east of Gaza: Iran.

“Who is the enabler for Hamas? Where do they get those rockets?” asked House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce Friday morning. “It’s Iran.”

American and Israeli officials have long accused Iran of helping Hamas build up its massive arsenal of rockets, including some with a particularly long range, which it is now firing into Israeli cities and towns.

“Iran continues to do everything it can to push rockets into Gaza,” says Israel’s ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer. “Iran obviously is a supporter of Hamas. And Islamic Jihad is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Iran” (Islamic Jihad is militant group smaller than Hamas that also operates within Gaza.)

The current wave of violence was triggered after the murder of several teenagers, three Israelis and then one Palestinian, apparently by extremists on both sides. More broadly, it is the product of the historical conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. But it also represents the latest chapter in an intermittently violent cold war between Israel and Iran, which has long funded and supplied arms to Palestinian militants who attack Israel.

At issue now is Iran’s shipments of rockets into Gaza, shipments that are thought to have gone on for years. The rockets are transported by ship from Iran to Sudan, driven into Egypt’s Sinai peninsula, and then smuggled into Gaza through secret underground tunnels that run from Egypt into Gaza. Israel has blockaded Gaza’s borders ever since Hamas—which openly calls for Israel’s destruction—assumed power there in 2007.

Hamas can probably thank Iran for some of the most dangerous rockets it fired into Israel this week. They appear to be M-302s, whose range of 100 miles is longer than most in Hamas’s arsenal—which typically travel about ten miles—and can threaten northern Israeli cities. In March, Israel interdicted a ship carrying forty M-302 rockets it said were destined for Gaza; a United Nations report concluded last month that the rockets originated in the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas. Israeli officials don’t believe that shipment was the only one of its kind.

The good news from Israel’s perspective is that smuggling arms to Hamas has become harder since last summer’s military coup in Egypt deposed a pro-Hamas Muslim Brotherhood regime in Cairo. The new regime of Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, who strongly opposes Hamas, has mostly sealed the tunnels into Gaza (Both Hamas and Iran have denied such shipments.)

Hamas isn’t solely reliant on outsiders for its weapons. “A lot of the rockets are coming now from being domestically manufactured,” said Dermer on a conference call with reporters Friday. “That was not the case 18 months ago. Eighteen months ago, most of the rockets were coming from outside.”

However, even those homemade rockets bear Iranian fingerprints, say Israeli officials. Tehran has assisted Hamas and Islamic Jihad in developing their own manufacturing capabilities inside Gaza. “Iran is the principle source of know-how” for such efforts, an Israeli military intelligence official said in June.

There is no sign that Israel intends to retaliate against Iran. But some analysts believe that Israel uses confrontations like this one to send a message to Tehran, which also arms the anti-Israel group Hezbollah in southern Lebanon, and whose nuclear program some Israeli leaders declare an existential threat. When Israel last clashed with Hamas in November of 2012, for instance, one columnist for the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz wrote that Israel’s response “seems to be aimed at the Palestinian arena, but in reality it is geared toward Iranian hostility against Israel.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may see the current crisis as an opportunity to deal a crippling blow to Hamas, which one former Obama administration official with Middle East expertise describes as “desperate” now that Egypt has sealed many of its underground smuggling routes. Hamas’s relationship with Iran has also wobbled over the Syrian civil war, as the the Sunni Palestinian group and Tehran’s Shi’ite clerical regime have supported different sides in that sectarian conflict (although the two have recently struck a friendlier tone.)

Iran’s stake in the Israel-Hamas fight means that Tehran has a hand in three live conflicts at the moment. In addition to its strong support of Syrian ruler Bashar Assad, Iran has provided military aid to Iraq’s Shi’ite ruler, Nouri al-Maliki, who is fending off an invasion from Sunni radical group the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and its Iraqi Sunni allies.

Meanwhile, Iran’s support for groups that oppose and attack Israel will remain a thorny issue in U.S.-Iranian relations as Washington tries to strike a nuclear deal with Tehran. Many of the economic sanctions currently imposed on Iran are based on the country’s support for terrorism and weapons proliferation.

Iran’s supply of rockets to Hamas “does raise the issue of how Iran is a proliferator,” said Chairman Royce, who spoke at a breakfast with reporters in Washington. He said any talks with Iran should include the question of “how do you stop this penchant for proliferation?”

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