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Obama to Israelis: Military Strike Won’t Stop Iran Nuclear Program

On May 29, President Barack Obama told Israel’s Channel 2 that a military strike, even with U.S. participation, would only “temporarily slow down an Iranian nuclear program.” He pushed back on criticism of the potential deal being negotiated between Iran and the world’s six major powers. The “best way to prevent Iran from having a nuclear weapon is a verifiable, tough agreement,” he said. The president, however, also assured the Israeli people that he understands their concerns and fears.

On June 2, just hours before Obama’s interview aired, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the Israeli public that Israel must “first and foremost” rely on itself. He warned that the deal under consideration would “pave the way for Iran to atom bombs.” The following are excerpts from Obama’s interview with Ilana Dayan and Netanyahu’s remarks.
 
QUESTION: There’s a remarkably sincere observation you made once -- you said, “Nothing comes to my desk that is perfectly solvable.”  And you said, “Any given decision I make, I wind up with a 30 to 40 percent chance that it isn’t going to work.”  I’m afraid Israelis cannot afford even three to four percent chance you’re wrong, Mr. President, because if you are, the bomb will hit Tel Aviv first.
 
THE PRESIDENT:  Well, let’s back up on this.  We know that Iran, prior to me coming into office, had gone from a few hundred centrifuges to thousands.  We know that the potential breakout time for Iran, if it chose to build a bomb, is a matter potentially of months today instead of years.   
 
And seeing that, I came in and organized an international coalition -- including countries like Russia and China that tend not to be very sympathetic to sanctions regimes -- and we have imposed the most effective sanctions on Iran over the course of the last five years that has led them to essentially lose a decade, perhaps, of economic growth. 
 
At the time, people were skeptical.  They said, oh, sanctions aren’t going to work.  Then we were able to force Iran to the negotiating table because of the effectiveness of the sanctions.  And I said that in exchange for some modest relief in sanctions, Iran is going to have to freeze its nuclear program, roll back on its stockpiles of very highly enriched uranium -- the very stockpiles that Prime Minister Netanyahu had gone before the United Nations with his picture of the bomb and said that was proof of how dangerous this was -- all that stockpile is gone. 
And in fact, at that time, everybody said, this isn’t going to work.  They’re going to cheat.  They’re not going to abide by it.  And yet, over a year and a half later, we know that they have abided by the letter of it.
 
So we have I think shown that we are able to construct a mechanism, if, in fact, we get an agreement, to verify that all four pathways to a nuclear weapon are shut off.
 
Q: But what if they take the $100 million showered at them after sanctions are lifted and not take them to build movie theaters and hospitals in Tehran, but rather divert it to military use?
 
THE PRESIDENT:  Okay, so that’s a different question, though.  So I just want to separate out the questions.  There’s one critique of a potential nuclear deal which is it won’t hold, and Iran will cheat, and they will get a bomb.  And I have confidence that if, in fact, we arrive at the kind of agreement that I’m looking for, and that was described in Geneva but now has to be memorialized, then we will have cut off their path to a nuclear weapon and we will be able to verify it with unprecedented mechanisms.
 
Now, it may be that Iran is not able to make the necessary concessions for us to know we can verify it --   
 
Q: Then there’s no deal. 
 
THE PRESIDENT:  Then there’s going to be no deal.  But let’s assume there’s a deal.  There is now a second set of arguments, which is you bring down sanctions --
 
Q: Now, that’s wishful thinking --
 
THE PRESIDENT:  -- and they’ve got $100-$150 billion, and now they can do even more mischief around the region.  I would make three points on that.
 
Number one is that we will be putting in place a snapback provision so that if they cheat on the nuclear deal, the sanctions automatically go back into place; we don’t have to ask Mr. Putin’s permission, for example, to put sanctions back. 
 
Number two, we shouldn’t assume that we can perpetuate the sanctions forever anyway.  There’s a shelf life on the sanctions, because the reason the international community agreed was to get to the table to deal with the nuclear issue, not to deal with all of these other issues.  So we will get a diminishing return just on maintaining sanctions.
 
Number three, Mr. Rouhani was elected specifically in order to strengthen the Iranian economy.  There’s enormous political pressure on them -- as I said, they’ve lost a decade of economic growth.  Their economy has been contracting each year.  And it is true that out of $100 billion or $150 billion, of course the IRGC, the Quds Force, they’re going to want to get their piece.  But the fact is, is that the great danger that the region has faced from Iran is not because they have so much money.  Their budget -- their military budget is $15 billion compared to $150 billion for the Gulf States -- I just met with them. 
 
They have a low-tech but very effective mechanism of financing proxies, of creating chaos in regions.  And they’ve also shown themselves, regardless of sanctions, to be willing to finance Hezbollah with rockets and others even in the face of sanctions.
 
So the question then becomes are they going to suddenly be able to finance 10 times the number of Hezbollah fighters?  Probably not.
 
Q: I don’t know if you noticed, Mr. President, but our Prime Minister gave a speech to Congress a few months ago.
 
THE PRESIDENT:  Really?  I didn’t notice.  (Laughter.) 
 
Q: Yes, really.  I was wondering if you noticed that.  But I asked your good friend, David Axelrod, your chief strategist, about it later and he said this was a highly political exercise. Would you agree on that?
 
THE PRESIDENT: As I said before, I think the Prime Minister cares very much about the security of the Israeli people, and I think that in his mind, he is doing what’s right. 
 
I care very much about the people of Israel as well, and in my mind, it is very much in Israel’s interest to make sure that Iran doesn’t have a nuclear weapon.  And I can, I think, demonstrate -- not based on any hope, but on facts and evidence and analysis -- that the best way to prevent Iran from having a nuclear weapon is a verifiable, tough agreement.  A military solution will not fix it, even if the United States participates. It would temporarily slow down an Iranian nuclear program, but it will not eliminate it.
 
Q: Can you even imagine a scenario where Prime Minister Netanyahu, after this deal -- which he says it’s a bad deal, that’s why he came to Congress -- launches a military strike and doesn’t even call you ahead of time?
 
THE PRESIDENT: I won’t speculate on that.  What I can say is -- to the Israeli people -- I understand your concerns and I understand your fears.  But what is the worst scenario is the path that we’re currently on in which there’s no nuclear resolution, and ultimately, we have no way to verify whether Iran has a weapon or not.
 
Sanctions won’t do it.  A military solution is temporary.  The deal that we’re negotiating potentially takes a nuclear weapon off the table for 20 years.  And so when the Prime Minister comes here, I understand he is speaking because he believes that it’s the right thing to do.  But I respectfully disagree with him.  And I think that I can show if, in fact, Iran abides by the deal that we’re outlining now -- and they may not.  They could still walk away and miss this opportunity.

—May 29, 2015 in an interview with Channel 2
 
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
 
“When speaking of Israelis' security I rely first and foremost on ourselves, and proof of this is the agreement emerging between the world powers and Iran.

The deal will “pave the way for Iran to atom bombs” and inject billions of dollars into its economy.

“With that money it can continue to arm our enemies with high trajectory weapons and other arms, and also arm its war and terror machine, which is acting against us and the Middle East, and which is much more dangerous than Islamic State's terror machine, which is also dangerous.”
—June 2, 2015 in remarks at Home Command headquarters
 

Report: Iran’s Role in Iraq

The rise of the so-called Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, is both a threat and an opportunity for Iran, according to a new study by Alireza Nader at the Rand Corporation. On one hand, the conquest of nearly one-third of Iraqi territory and potential to take more of the country threatens Iranian interests. On the other hand, ISIS’s “ascent gives Tehran the chance to showcase its importance and influence in the Middle East,” according to Nader. Proving that it is a key player could increase Iran’s leverage in nuclear talks with the world’s six major powers.

As a result, Iran has opted to publicize its role in mobilizing Shiite militias to support Iraqi government forces in the fight against ISIS. The previously elusive General Qassem Soleiamni, chief of the Revolutionary Guards’ elite Qods Force, has even been extensively photographed at the front.  
 
U.S. and Iranian military forces are actually fighting a common enemy in Iraq. On the surface, “U.S. air power seems to complement Iran’s on-the-ground presence,” Nader notes. “While the United States and Iran ultimately have divergent long-term goals for Iraq, and face disagreements on many other issues, limited tactical cooperation in weakening ISIL in Iraq may be possible,” he argues. Nader also warns that that while such cooperation could weaken the group, “it is unlikely to solve the region’s increasing insecurity, which is due in part to Iran’s sectarian politics.” The following are key excerpts from the report.
 
Iran, Political Kingmaker and Arbitrator
 
Iran’s policy of maintaining influence in Iraq is to form Shi’a-led centralized governments while making sure they do not become too powerful. Thus, Iranian influence is strong within the central government and among non-governmental actors that challenge central authority.
Qods Force commander Qassem Soleimani often acts as a political arbitrator between Iraqi Shi’a parties. He heads all of Iran’s activities in Iraq, including overseeing Shi’a militias, disbursing funds to political leaders, and overseeing “soft power” activities (Brennan et al., 2013). With connections to Shi’a, Sunni Arab, and Kurdish leaders, Soleimani has been directly involved in nearly all major Iraqi government deliberations since the fall of Saddam.
 
Iran’s Support for Shi’a Non-Governmental Militias
 
While helping its allies get elected, Iran simultaneously funds, equips, and even creates militant groups that enable it to pressure political actors to pursue policies beneficial to the Islamic Republic. The more powerful non-state actors grow, the weaker the Iraqi central government becomes. But once a militant group gains enough power to field a viable political party—thus needing to moderate its positions to appeal to a broader constituency—Iran invariably creates a new militant group to replace it (Eisenstadt, Knights, and Ali, 2011).
Iraqi Shi’a militias are often reported to be engaged in extrajudicial killings, kidnapping, and torture of Sunni Iraqis. They may appear reliable for Iran’s fight against ISIL, but their sectarian nature and abuses against the Sunni are increasing ISIL’s ideological and political appeal among the Sunni. Iran faces a major quandary, as it is unlikely to fully defeat Sunni extremist groups in Iraq as long as it bases its influence on Shi’a militants. But the weakening of Shi’a militias is likely to result in a strengthened Iraqi central government that could pose a long-term challenge to Iranian influence.
 
The Rise of ISIL: Implications for Iran

Short-to Medium-Term Gains
 
There are a couple possible explanations for Iran’s increasingly public role in Iraq. First, the Iranian government is keen to prove its reliability to Iraq’s Shi’a-led government.
Second, Iran’s active and explicit involvement in Iraq is a boon for the Rouhani government’s efforts to decrease Iran’s isolation, enhance its regional influence, and strengthen its partnership with global powers.
Iran’s decisive role in Iraq can demonstrate to the rest of the Middle East that its power exceeds that of Sunni states, which are unable to save the Iraqi government from ISIL. This is particularly useful in swaying smaller Sunni states (Oman being a good example) that may be suspicious of Iran to see the Islamic Republic as a necessary balance against Saudi Arabia.
Perhaps more importantly, Iran’s fight against ISIL may provide it additional leverage in the nuclear negotiations with the P5+1. The U.S. government has stated that its negotiations with Iran are focused solely on latter’s nuclear program and are not dependent on regional issues. Such compartmentalization can theoretically prevent greater Iranian leverage on nuclear negotiations. Tehran is unable to ease the sanctions chokehold without addressing P5+1—especially American—concerns over its nuclear program.
 
But Iran’s regional influence is not as easily contained by sanctions; Tehran can act independently and counter to American and Western interests in the Middle East despite the ongoing negotiations. Iran’s ability to destabilize (or stabilize) the region could convince the United States and its P5+1 interlocutors to be more flexible on the nuclear issue. There are, however, no indications this has been the case, despite suspicions that Washington and Tehran may be eyeing cooperation in Iraq in the future (Solomon and Lee, 2014).
 
Is There Room for Cooperation Between the United States and Iran?
 
The rise of ISIL has led to a debate in the United States regarding the utility and dangers of working with Iran in Iraq. Some commentators and analysts argue that Washington and Tehran should work together against ISIL (see Pillar, 2014), while others believe that the Iranian government is a major source of problems in Iraq (see Haykel, 2014; and Pletka, 2015). A closer examination of the issue reveals that American and Iranian interests in Iraq are not completely aligned, especially due to the Iranian government’s distrust of the United States and its commitment to a rivalry between the two nations. However, the two countries can still work together in pushing back ISIL from Iraqi territory. While their visions for Iraq and the region diverge, the current objective of both the United States and Iran is to diminish ISIL. Greater U.S.-Iran coordination could assist in achieving this goal.
The Iranian government appears to be of two minds in considering cooperation with Washington in Iraq. Rouhani government officials have advocated working with the United States in Iraq, but Iran’s most powerful leaders have opposed the idea in public.
 
Click here for the full report.
 
Click here to read Alireza Nader’s chapter on the Revolutionary Guards.
 
Tags: Iraq, ISIS, Reports

UN Report: Iran Shares Limited Information

On May 29, the U.N. nuclear watchdog released a new report on Iran’s implementation of Non-Proliferation Treaty safeguards and compliance with U.N. Security Council Resolutions. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said that Iran “shared some information in relation to” possible military dimensions of its nuclear program. Iran had agreed in May 2014 to implement two practical measures on the outstanding questions, but has not yet completed either. “The Agency and Iran agreed to continue the dialogue on these practical measures and to meet again in the near future,” according to the report.

The U.N. watchdog also stressed the necessity for Iran to grant inspectors access to all sites, including military ones such as Parchin. Access to military sites has been a controversial issue in recent negotiations between Iran and the world’s six major powers.

The following are some key findings of the report, as outlined by the four experts from the Institute for Science and International Security; David Albright, Serena Kelleher-Vergantini, Andrea Stricker, and Daniel Schnur.
 
1) The average rate of monthly production of low enriched uranium (LEU) went up slightly, as did the average centrifuge performance of the IR-1 centrifuges in the Natanz Fuel Enrichment Plant.
 
2) With regard to the possible military dimensions (PMD) issue, Iran has “shared some information” in relation to one of the measures in the IAEA/Iran Framework for Cooperation. The IAEA and Iran agreed to continue the dialogue and meet again in the near future. However, no major breakthrough was reported. Moreover, Iran did not propose any new practical measures to resolve the PMD issue and has rebuffed requests by the IAEA to speed up the process of resolving outstanding issues.
 
3) Iran has a total inventory of 8,714 kg of 3.5 percent LEU hexafluoride and another 1,822 kg (uranium mass) 3.5 percent LEU in various chemical forms at the Enriched UO2 powder Plant (EUPP). In total, as of May 2015, Iran also has about 228 kilograms (kg) of near 20 percent LEU (uranium mass). Of this near 20 percent LEU, 61.5 kg are in uranium oxide powder, 44.9 are in TRR fuel assemblies, and 121.2 kg are in scrap and waste, and in-process (all in uranium mass).
 
4) During the last reporting period, Iran did not feed any additional LEU into the Enriched UO2 powder Plant. So far, Iran has fed 2,720 kg of LEUF6 into the EUPP. Thus, Iran has fallen behind in its pledge under the Joint Plan of Action (JPA) to feed any newly produced LEU hexafluoride into the EUPP. Its current deficit is 1,106 kg of 3.5 percent LEU hexafluoride, which will increase by a few hundred kilograms during May and June. Under the JPA, Iran must feed all of this LEU into the EUPP by the end of June.
 
5) After a lengthy delay, the EUPP has finally produced LEU dioxide. As of May 23, 2015, the plant had produced 151 kg of uranium in the form of UO2 enriched up to 5 percent uranium 235. The problem, according to Iranian officials, is that the last section of the plant that produces the LEU dioxide did not work properly. In total, Iran produced the 151 kg of LEU dioxide from 402.6 kg of uranium in the form of ammonium diuranate enriched up to five percent. 6) Most of the near 20 percent LEU fed into the line to make Tehran Research Reactor (TRR) fuel continues to end up as scrap or is in-process rather than in TRR fuel assemblies.
 
Click here for the full ISIS report.
 
Click here for the IAEA report.
 

Nuke Talks: Latest from Iran, P5+1

On May 27, a new round of nuclear negotiations began in Vienna, Austria between Iran and the world's six major powers - Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United States. The negotiators are aiming to turn the blueprint for a deal announced on April 2 into a final agreement by June 30. But Iranian and French officials have recently acknowledged that they may need more time to hammer out the details. “We are not bound to a specific time. We want a good deal that covers our demands,” Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi said ahead of the new round of talks.

Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, who departed for Vienna on May 27, is set to join Secretary of State John Kerry for meetings with Iranian officials in Geneva, Switzerland on May 30. She will then return to Vienna for further talks with Iran and the other powers.
 
The latest sticking point in the talks has been gaining access to Iran’s military sites as part of a deal. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei initially seemed to rule out the possibility of inspections. But later, Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi said Iran “has agreed to grant managed access to military sites.” And Yukiya Amano, chief of the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said that his organization has “the right to request access at all locations, including military ones.” The following are excerpted remarks by officials from the world’s six major powers and the IAEA on the status of the talks.
 
Iran
 
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif
 
“If the other side respects what has been agreed in Lausanne and tries to draft, based on mutual respect, a comprehensive agreement with Iran that is sustainable..., then we can meet any deadline.
 
“If people insist on excessive demands, on renegotiation, then it will be difficult to envisage an agreement even without a deadline.
 
“I am hopeful we will reach a final conclusion within a reasonable period of time. In order to do that people need to be realistic, people need to have their foot in reality, not in illusions.
 
“We can only have agreements in which both sides can claim that they have achieved positive results. You need to either win together, or lose together. Iran, with millennia of history, will not be intimidated.”
—May 28, 2015 to the press
 
Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi
 
“Iran has agreed to grant managed access to military sites.”
“Americans are after interviewing our nuclear scientists. We didn't accept it.”
—May 24, 2015 to the press
“The deadline might be extended and the talks might continue after the June 30 [deadline]. We are not bound to a specific time. We want a good deal that covers our demands.”
“The talks are serious, complicated and detailed. The pace of talks is slow as we have entered final stages.”
 
“Some solutions have been proposed and we are working on them. For us, the principle of simultaneity is very important.
 
“The final text of the deal will be about 60 pages including 20 pages of the main text and five attachments.
 
“This question [of timing and phasing] is still under discussion. We need a timetable to start implementing the measures that both sides have undertaken, and that may take some months. First of all, we have to wait for – something about two months – for the American Congress and probably Iranian Majlis to review the agreement and decide, and whenever the U.S. government, the European governments and the Iranian government express their readiness to start the implementation of the agreement, we [will] actually start doing what we are supposed to do. And that may take two months before we do anything because of these initiatives by the Congress and Majlis.
 
“So we have already two months of waiting and then we need a timetable that we are still working on that. We should do something, the other side should do something. We insist on the principal of simultaneity. Everything that both sides are supposed to do should be at the same time and simultaneous. Of course, we have some differences here – how to manage that, how to fix everything in a simultaneous way. We’re working on this timetable and this is one of our differences that we have still kept in brackets and we are trying to resolve that.
“It [the agreement] will still be based on the principal that all economic and financial sanctions should be removed at once.”
—May 27, 2015 to the press via Reuters and Press TV
 
“Removal of sanctions in the economic sector is being discussed so that the other side will remove the sanctions structures in a document and declare that if Iran acts upon its undertakings, they will remove the sanctions.”
—May 24, 2015 in a closed-door session of parliament
 
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
 
 
Member of Parliament Ahmad Shoohani
“Managed access will be in a shape where U.N. inspectors will have the possibility of taking environmental samples from the vicinity of military sites.”
—May 24, 2015 to the press
 
France
 
Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius
 
“France will not accept [a deal] if it is not clear that inspections can be done at all Iranian installations, including military sites.”
—May 27, 2015 to lawmakers in Paris
 
Ambassador to the United States Gerard Araud
 
“It’s very likely that we won’t have an agreement before the end of June or even [right] after.”
“Even if we get the best deal ... afterwards, you will have to translate it into the technical annexes, so it may be ... we could have a sort of fuzzy end to the negotiation.”
—May 26, 2015 at an event in Washington, D.C. via Reuters
 
Germany
 
Ambassador to the United States Peter Wittig
 
“Iran needs some time to start the implementation of this agreement, so in the best case sanctions relief would not happen before the end of this year.”
—May 26, 2015 at an event in Washington, D.C. via Reuters
 
United Kingdom
 
Ambassador to the United States Peter Westmacott
 
“My sense is that we are probably not far away from the high-water mark of international sanctions against the Iranian economy.”
—May 26, 2015 at an event in Washington, D.C. via Reuters
 
United States
 
State Department Press Office Director Jeff Rathke
 
“We’re not contemplating an extension beyond June 30th. Again, we’re united among the P5+1 that our efforts are to reach a final deal by the end of June.
 
“Well, in Lausanne, of course, we reached a framework understanding, and we’re working on completing the technical details and elements of that understanding now. So we won’t have a deal until those technical details are done, and – but – and we expect the pace of the talks to continue unabated. But we think we can achieve – achieve that goal.
 
“I don’t have new announcements to make about sanctions relief. As we’ve always said, sanctions relief will depend on completion of the key nuclear-related steps, and that’s what we’ve been saying ever since Lausanne, and that remains our position.
—May 27, 2015 in a press briefing
 
Russia
 
Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov
 
“There should be nothing automatic in this sphere [sanctions relief].
 
“We should find a formula under which a decision on a hypothetical, possible, potential restoration of sanctions would be made only and solely by the U.N. Security Council through voting, through a resolution.
—May 27, 2015 to Russia-24

 

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
 
Director General Yukiya Amano
 
“When we find inconsistency or when we have doubts we can request access to the undeclared location for example, and this could include military sites.
 
“Some consideration is needed because of the sensitiveness of the site, but the IAEA has the right to request access at all locations, including military ones.
 
“Several months will be needed” to investigate the possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear research.
 
“It depends very much on the pace and the intensiveness of the cooperation from Iran. We have identified 12 areas to clarify.
 
It could take years “to give the credible assurance that all activities in Iran have a peaceful purpose.”
 
“This will be the most extensive safeguard operation of the IAEA. We need to prepare well, we need to plan well, it is a huge operation.”
—May 26 in an interview with AFP
 

 

Jason Rezaian Trial Begins in Tehran

On May 26, Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian went on trial in Tehran’s Revolutionary Court, which handles national security cases.  The charges against him included espionage, collaborating with “hostile governments,” and “propaganda against the establishment.” During the hearing, the judge read a letter Rezaian had written to President Obama, inlcuding a passage that reportedly stated "In Iran, I'm in contact with simple laborers to influential mullahs." Rezaian denied the charges against him, and said “I carried out all my activities legally and as a journalist.” If convicted, Rezaian could face a 20-year prison sentence. The date of the next trial session has not been announced.

President Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and other U.S. officials have called on Iran to release the journalist, who is a dual U.S.-Iranian citizen. “The charges against Jason Rezaian are absurd,” Deputy State Department Spokesman Jeff Rathke said on May 26. “They should be dropped; he should be released.”

But Iran’s government does not recognize dual citizenship. Rezaian and his Iranian wife Yeganeh Salehi, a correspondent for the Emirates-based paper The National, were detained in late July 2014. Salehi was released on bail during the first week of October.
 
On the margins of nuclear negotiations with Iran, U.S. officials have repeatedly raised Rezaian’s case along with the status of three other Americans also detained or missing in Iran. “We raise it in every round of meetings we have,” State Department Spokesperson Marie Harf told the press on April 21. But Harf, along with other U.S. officials, emphasized that the nuclear negotiations and Rezaian's detainment are "separate issues."
 
The following are excerpted remarks by U.S. officials on the case.
 
Deputy State Department Spokesman Jeff Rathke
 
“We’re aware of reports that U.S. citizen Jason Rezaian’s trial has begun in Iran. We continue to monitor this as closely as possible, and we continue to call for all of the absurd charges to be dropped and for Jason Rezaian to be released immediately.”
 
“You asked about the closed nature of the trial….It certainly adds to our concerns and it fits, unfortunately, into a pattern of a complete lack of transparency and the lack of due process that we’ve seen since Jason Rezaian was first detained. So while we call for his trial to be open, we also maintain that he should never have been detained or put on trial in the first place.
 
Now, you asked about contacts as well. We always raise the cases of detained and missing U.S. citizens with Iranian officials on the sidelines of the P5+1 talks and the other interactions that happen in that context, and we will continue to do that until all of them are home.”
 
“We call on the Iranian authorities to release Jason Rezaian immediately. This is independent of the nuclear negotiations. We also call for the release of Saeed Abedini and Amir Hekmati, as well as for Iran to cooperate in locating Robert Levinson, so that they can all be returned to their families.”
 
“The charges against Jason Rezaian are absurd. They should be dropped; he should be released.”
—May 26, 2015, according to the press
 
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest
 
MR. EARNEST: Let me start by saying that while the United States is not aware of any official announcement yet from any Iranian judicial authorities, we have seen reports that U.S. citizen Jason Rezaian has been charged with espionage and other security-related charges.  If the reports are true, these charges are absurd, should be immediately dismissed, and Jason should be freed immediately so he can return home to his family.  So we’re going to wait until we see some more official announcement from Iranian judicial authorities before we comment further on this case. 
 
More generally, let me repeat something that I said before, which is that the ongoing effort to try to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon through diplomacy will not, if it succeeds, resolve the wide range of other concerns we have about Iranian behavior.  I mentioned earlier in response to Nedra’s question our ongoing concerns about Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region, including shipping arms to the Houthis, for example.  We continue to be concerned about Iran’s support for terrorism and Iran’s language that currently emanates from their leadership that threatens our closest ally in the Middle East, Israel.  And we continue to  have concerns about Mr. Rezaian and other Americans who are being unjustly detained in Iran.
 
One thing that we have done, Mike, that you know, in the context of the talks is raised on the sidelines of those talks our concern about the status of these American citizens.  And we’re going to continue to press that case as we move forward here.
 
QUESTION: Josh, on the Jason Rezaian case, why can’t you just say to the Iranians that as a condition of making this deal final, you’ve got to free Jason Rezaian?  I understand you’re going to resolve all of your issues with Iran, like supporting terrorism throughout the region -- all of those issues that are very complicated perhaps; some would argue maybe not.  But here you have one case of an American who’s been held prisoner since July of last year, now brought up on what you just said were absurd charges.  Why not say, look, we’re not going to sign a deal until you let him go?

MR. EARNEST: The reason for that, Jon, simply is that the effort to build the international community’s strong support for a diplomatic resolution, or a diplomatic agreement that would shut down every pathway that Iran has to a nuclear weapon is extraordinarily complicated.  And so we’re trying to focus on these issues one at a time.  And that’s why you continue to see regular, consistent and pretty forceful statements from the United States that these Americans should be released, while at the same time we are working with our P5+1 partners and other countries around the world to compel Iran to sign on to the dotted line and agree to shut down every pathway they have to a nuclear weapon, and cooperate with the most intrusive set of inspections that have ever been imposed on a country’s nuclear program.
—April 20, 2015 during a press briefing 
 
QUESTION: Josh, coming back to another category of egregious behavior by Iran, we talked about Jason Rezaian yesterday.
… 
I understand -- we’ve been over this many times -- you're not going to make the release of these Americans a condition for having a final deal on the nuclear matter, but is the administration willing to impose some serious consequences on the Iranian government for taking these Americans under what appear to be specious charges?
 
MR. EARNEST: Well, I don't want to speculate about any possible future action, but I will say something that's similar to what I said before, which is that we continue to be very concerned about the unjust detention of a number of Americans inside of Iran.  We have made those concerns known in quite public fashion.  We’ve also made those concerns known privately, directly with the Iranian leadership.  As recently as a month or two ago, Secretary of State John Kerry on the sidelines of his nuclear negotiations with his Iranian counterpart raised his concerns about this unjust detention.
So we’ve made very clear to the Iranians that we're concerned about the treatment of Americans inside of Iran, and that this continues to be a high priority for U.S. foreign policy.
—April 21, 2015 during a press briefing 
 
State Department Spokesperson Marie Harf
 
QUESTION:  I’m wondering if you have any thoughts/reaction to the charging of Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian by Iran. And then I’d like to stay on Iran for a little bit.
 
MS HARF: So we are still not aware of any official announcement yet from Iranian judicial authorities. I understand these reports are coming from his lawyer. We have seen the reports, of course, from his lawyer and others that he has been charged with espionage and other security-related charges. If the reports are true, these charges are, as we’ve said in the past, patently absurd. He should immediately be freed so he can return to his family. The charges should immediately be dismissed. But again, no confirmation officially from Iranian judicial authorities yet.
 
QUESTION: Quick one on this one. Is it possible for him to renounce his Iranian citizenship? Do you know anything about that?
 
MS HARF: I don’t know, Said. But regardless of that specific fact, and I just don’t know the answers there, these charges that he’s allegedly been charged with are just absurd as I said and he should be freed immediately.
 
QUESTION: The other thing having to do with Iran – I realize that these are separate, the issue of the Americans detained – are separate from the nuclear talks. Although, as you and others have said as does come up – this issue does come up on the –
 
MS HARF: We always raise it in every round. That’s correct.
 
QUESTION: So I’m wondering: Does this give you any pause about going full-throttle ahead with the negotiations?
 
MS HARF: They really are separate issues.
 
QUESTION: Well, but they had been brought up on the –
 
MS HARF: On the sidelines. But not related to the nuclear issue, just because we were all in the same place.
 
It doesn’t make us not want to get this resolved diplomatically any less than we already do. We clearly believe this is important.
 
QUESTION: Understood, but is this something that now will be – that you will make the – you, meaning the Administration – will make a point of raising, since you say that these charges are –
 
MS HARF: Not as part of the nuclear talks. These are separate issues. We will continue raising his case and the other two Americans who were detained – and Robert Levinson who’s missing – we’ll continue raising them but they are not – their fate and the outcome of these cases should in no way be tied to the nuclear issue.
—April 21, 2015 during a State Department press briefing

Washington Post Executive Editor Martin Baron 
 
“The shameful acts of injustice continue without end in the treatment of Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian. Now we learn his trial will be closed to the world. And so it will be closed to the scrutiny it fully deserves.
 
It’s worth recalling what kind of system we’re dealing with. Jason was arrested without charges. He was imprisoned in Iran’s worst prison. He was placed in isolation for many months and denied medical care he needed. His case was assigned to a judge internationally notorious for human rights violations. He could not select the lawyer of his choosing. He was given only an hour and a half to meet with a lawyer approved by the court. No evidence has ever been produced by prosecutors or the court to support these absurd charges. The trial date was only disclosed to Jason’s lawyer last week. And now, unsurprisingly but unforgivably, it turns out the trial will be closed.
 
Jason’s mother, Mary, who has spent the last two weeks in Iran awaiting the trial, will not be permitted to attend. His wife, Yeganeh, who faces related charges, will also be barred; she is to be tried separately. Efforts by The Washington Post to secure a visa that would have allowed a senior editor to travel to Iran have gone unanswered by the authorities in Tehran.
 
There is no justice in this system, not an ounce of it, and yet the fate of a good, innocent man hangs in the balance. Iran is making a statement about its values in its disgraceful treatment of our colleague, and it can only horrify the world community.”
—May 25, 2015, in a statement

 

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