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Iran Nuke Program 1: ABCs of Issues

      There’s no one single formula for a nuclear deal with Iran. The United States compares negotiations to solving a Rubik’s Cube™, because so many pieces are involved—and moving one moves all the others. (The world’s most popular puzzle has 43 quintillion permutations to solve it so all the colors match on the six faces.) These are some of the key issues in the Rubik’s Cube of a nuclear deal.



         CENTRIFUGES: Since 2002, Iran has built centrifuges to enrich uranium, which can fuel both peaceful energy and deadly bombs. Tehran claims it is only for medical research and energy. But Iran’s abilities far exceed its current needs; Russia provides fuel for Iran’s single nuclear reactor.
            Iran now has about 19,000 centrifuges—up from less than 200 a decade ago. The vast majority of these are first-generation “IR-1” centrifuges, but Iran has begun installing much more sophisticated “IR-2” models. About 10,000 are enriching uranium at Iran’s two enrichment facilities, Natanz and Fordow; the rest are installed but not operating. The more centrifuges or the more advanced centrifuges Iran has, the faster it can enrich uranium.

            A deal will try to reduce the number of Iran’s centrifuges. Outside experts suggest the goal could be to limit Iran to between 2,000 and 6,000 operating IR-1 centrifuges, and place constraints on research and development into more advanced machines.

          ENRICHMENT: Uranium enriched to 90 percent is the purest form to fuel a weapon. Prior to the November 24 “Joint Plan of Action” (JPOA) interim nuclear deal, Iran was enriching up to 20 percent level; under the JPOA, enrichment has been temporarily capped at five percent or less.
            A final deal could seek to limit enrichment to five percent or less.
          STOCKPILE: The larger the stockpile of uranium gas, the faster Iran could produce fuel for a bomb. Iran had 447 kg of uranium enriched at 20 percent before the interim deal went into effect in January. It has since begun “neutralizing” its 20 percent stockpile by diluting 104 kg to 3.5 percent enriched uranium and converting another 287 kg into uranium oxide powder. As of May, Iran had an estimated 56 kg of uranium gas enriched at 20 percent. It is due to dilute or oxidize all its 20 percent uranium gas by July 20.

            A deal could seek to limit the stockpile of 5 percent enriched uranium and require Iran to further reduce its stockpile of 20 percent uranium in oxide form. Iran may be allowed to keep some for research, but not enough to quickly build a bomb.

         NATANZ: Iran’s primary enrichment facility includes three underground buildings, two of which are designed to hold 50,000 centrifuges, and six buildings built above ground.
            A deal will try to limit the program at Natanz.
          FORDO: The smaller, underground enrichment facility near Qom includes two halls; each could hold 1,500 centrifuges. Iran claims Fordow is to enrich uranium up to 20 percent— only for research. But skeptics contend the deeply-buried site, designed to survive aerial bombardment, is intended to take 20 percent enriched material from Natanz and enrich it to higher levels for use in a nuclear weapon.
            A deal will try to end enrichment activities at Fordow, perhaps converting it to a research-only facility.
            ARAK: The small heavy-water reactor, begun in the 1990s, is unfinished. Iran claims it is to produce medical isotopes and thermal power for civilian use. But the design would also produce plutonium that, if chemically reprocessed, could provide an alternative fuel to uranium for an atomic bomb. Nine kilograms of plutonium is enough material to fuel one or two nuclear weapons. After completion, Arak would need to run for 12 to 18 months to generate that much plutonium.
            A deal will try to close Arak or redesign it in a way to substantially reduce plutonium output. A deal will also try prohibit Iran from building a reprocessing facility.
          INSPECTIONS and VERIFICATION: Any deal will require considerable transparency into the nature and extent of Iran’s civilian nuclear infrastructure, as well as possible past military dimensions of its program. A deal will also involve extensive inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) of Natanz, Fordow, Arak, centrifuge assembly facilities, uranium mines, research facilities—and possibly other sites—aimed at ensuring that Iran’s program remains solely for peaceful purposes.

             It may also cover access to sites suspected of past work on bomb components, such as Parchin military base. And it is likely to require Tehran’s acceptance of the IAEA’s “Additional Protocol,” allowing inspections at both declared and undeclared sites—and maybe other intrusive measures.

          IRAN’S RED LINES:
            Iran has its own configurations for the Rubik’s Cube of a deal. They include:
  • Preserving key elements of its nuclear program, including some uranium enrichment and research and development
  • Protecting Iran's "right" under the Non-Proliferation Treaty to a peaceful nuclear energy program to alleviate the drain on its oil sources and fuel modern development
  • Removing nuclear-related sanctions on Iran by the United States, European Union and United Nations


July 14 Update: Iran released the most detailed report to date explaining its practical needs for its nuclear program. It was posted on the quasi-official website NuclearEnergy.ir.


For more information, see:

David Albright and Andrea Stricker “Centrifuges: Key to Final Nuclear Deal
Robert Einhorn “Preventing a Nuclear Armed Iran

Photo credits: Rubik's Cube by by Lars Karlsson (Keqs) (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC-BY-SA-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons [edited by Iran Primer], President.ir



Iran Nuke Program 2: ABCs of Sites

      The following is a rundown of Iran’s key nuclear sites. Each will be a subject at diplomatic talks between the Islamic Republic and the world's six major powers.






Bushehr Nuclear Facility
        The Bushehr facility contains Iran’s first nuclear power plant. Its light-water reactor was loaded with nuclear fuel in August 2010. It has an operating capacity of 1,000 megawatts. Bushehr was originally launched in 1976 under contract with a German company, but after the 1979 revolution, Washington opposed it on the grounds that weapons grade plutonium could be extracted from the reactor’s waste, allowing Iran to construct nuclear weapons. Iran says the plant is for power-generation purposes only and will be subject to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards.
      The theocracy halted construction of the Bushehr reactor after the 1979 revolution, and it was badly damaged during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War. But Tehran decided to revive the project in 1990 to provide energy. The contract was awarded to Russia’s Rosatom Corp. To address international concerns, Moscow agreed to supply the enriched uranium fuel for the power plant and take back its plutonium-bearing spent fuel. In February 2005, Tehran and Moscow signed an agreement designed to ensure Iran could not divert enriched uranium for a weapons program.  In September 2013, Russia transferred operational control of some key facilities to Iran.
Natanz Fuel Enrichment Facility
         This fuel enrichment facility is at the heart of Iran’s dispute with the United Nations. The National Council of Resistance of Iran, an exiled opposition group, revealed the existence of the facility in 2002. It is located just outside the city of Natanz, approximately 130 miles south of Tehran.
         The site consists of two facilities:
  • An above-ground pilot fuel enrichment plant (PFEP)
  • A larger, underground fuel enrichment plant with the capacity to hold up to 50,000 centrifuges (FEP). 
      Activities at Natanz were suspended in 2004 following an agreement negotiated by Britain, France and Germany. But Iran restarted its uranium enrichment at the FEP after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s election in 2005. The international community is concerned that Iran may use the enrichment technology at Natanz for nuclear weapons. These activities were proscribed by U.N. Security Council Resolution 1696 in 2006. Iran rejects the legality of these resolutions.
            Iran has not installed new centrifuges at either of the Natanz sites since the implementation of the November 2013 Joint Plan of Action. And enrichment of uranium above five percent is no longer taking place at Natanz, according to a February 2014 U.N. report. About 160 kg of uranium enriched to 20 percent still remains at the site but some of the stockpile is being downblended or converted to uranium oxide, which could not easily be used to fuel a nuclear weapon. 
Isfahan Uranium Conversion Facility
          The historic city of Isfahan is home to several nuclear-related sites, but the most significant facility is the Isfahan Uranium Conversion Plant. Isfahan also has a fuel fabrication laboratory, a uranium chemistry laboratory and a zirconium production plant. The conversion plant has been operational since 2006, and converts uranium yellowcake into uranium hexafluoride (UF6) for Iran's enrichment facilities. The facility can also produce uranium metal and oxides for fuel and other purposes.
Tehran Nuclear Research Center
      The Tehran Nuclear Research Center is a complex of several laboratories, including the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR). The TRR produces radioisotopes for medical and research purposes. The United States supplied Iran with the 5-megawatt light-water reactor in 1967; it was fueled with highly enriched uranium (around 90 percent). In 1987, Argentina concluded a deal with Iran to change the core of the reactor so it could operate on low-enriched uranium (20 percent).
Arak Heavy Water Plant and Reactor
           The Arak nuclear facility includes a heavy water production plant, which has been operational since 2006, and a 40-megawatt heavy water reactor still under construction. The National Council of Resistance of Iran, an exiled opposition group, also revealed the existence of this facility in 2002.
      Heavy water production plants are not subject to traditional safeguards of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to which Iran is a signatory. Under the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Additional Protocol, Tehran would be subject to declarations and complementary access for IAEA inspectors. Since Iran has signed but not yet ratified the Additional Protocol, the IAEA uses satellite imagery to monitor the facility. Iran's heavy-water-related activities are also proscribed by U.N. Resolution 1696, which Tehran rejects.
            In December 2013, Iran provided the IAEA with information and access to the plant. Approximately 100 tons of reactor-grade heavy water have been produced at Arak since 2006. 
Qom Uranium Enrichment Facility (Fordo)
      This secret uranium enrichment facility was made public in 2009 after the United States shared intelligence about it with allies, and Iran confirmed its existence. Construction of the uranium enrichment plant near the holy city of Qom began around 2006, but Tehran maintained that it was not required to report its existence under the safeguard obligations until six months before it became operational. The plant has a few installed centrifuges, but Iran stopped all work once the site was publicized. The facility is located on a mountain on what was reportedly a former Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ missile site.
           The facility’s revelation prompted concern that Iran intended to construct a potential breakout facility where it could make weapon-grade uranium for a nuclear bomb. Iran told the IAEA that the plant was intended to enrich uranium only to 5 percent, which is not enough for a nuclear weapon. The plant is believed to have room for 3,000 centrifuges for uranium enrichment.
            Parchin is a military complex about 19 miles southeast of Tehran. The IAEA suspects Iran may have conducted experiments related to nuclear weapons production. U.N. inspectors visited the site twice in 2005 but did not find anything suspicious. But the IAEA later received additional evidence about alleged experiments. “We didn’t have enough information [back then],” IAEA chief Yukiya Amano said in 2012. “Extensive activities have taken place” at Parchin that have “seriously undermined” the IAEA’s ability to investigate possible military dimensions of Iran’s program, according to a February 2014 report.
            Iran apparently undertook cleanup activities, according to satellite imagery analyzed by the Institute for Science and International Security. The IAEA noted that satellite imagery revealed “possible building material and debris” at Parchin in 2014.
Gchine Mine and Mill
            The Gchine mine is located in southern Iran in Bandar Abbas. The associated mill is located at the same site. According to the IAEA, it began production in 2004 and has an estimated production capacity of 21 tons of uranium per year. The IAEA has questioned the mine’s ownership and relationship to Iran’s military. In January 2014, Iran provided the IAEA with managed access to the mine.
July 14 Update: Iran released the most detailed report to date explaining its practical needs for its nuclear program. It was posted on the quasi-official website NuclearEnergy.ir.


Photo credits: NuclearEnergy.ir, Natanz via Iranian President's Office and The New York Times



Iran Nuke Program 3: ABCs from Khamenei

            Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has voiced his opposition to nuclear weapons on several occasions during the last decade. The following are excerpted remarks in reverse chronological order.


      “Even now that reason - including religious and political reason - has made it clear that the Islamic Republic is not after nuclear weapons, American officials bring up the issue of nuclear weapons whenever they address the nuclear issue. This is while they themselves know that not having nuclear weapons is the definite policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran."
      April 9, 2014 in a speech to the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran
      “We are against nuclear weapons not because of the U.S. or others, but because of our beliefs. And when we say no one should have nuclear weapons, we definitely do not pursue it ourselves either.”
      Sept. 17, 2013 in a meeting with Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commanders
            “Nuclear weapons are neither a #security provider, nor a cause of consolidation of political power but rather a threat to both. The events of the 1990s proved that possessing such weapons would not save any regimes including the Soviet Union. Today as well, we know countries who are faced with fatal torrents of insecurity, despite having nuclear bombs.
           “The bitter irony of our time is that the U.S. government has the largest stockpile of nuclear weapons and is the only government that has used them, while it bears the flag of anti-nukes struggle!”
            Aug. 30, 2012
            “We do not possess a nuclear weapon and we will not build one, but
we will defend ourselves against any aggression, whether by the U.S. or the Zionist regime, with the same level [of force].”
            March 20, 2012 in a speech marking Nowruz, Persian New Year
            “Nuclear weapons are not at all beneficial to us. Moreover, from an ideological and fiqhi (juridical) perspective, we consider developing nuclear weapons as unlawful. We consider using such weapons as a big sin. We also believe that keeping such weapons is futile and dangerous, and we will never go after them.”
            Feb. 22, 2012 in a speech to nuclear scientists
            “Islam is opposed to nuclear weapons and that Tehran is not working to build them.”
            February 2010 at a ship-christening ceremony
      “The Iranian people and their officials have declared times and again that the nuclear weapon is religiously forbidden in Islam and they do not have such a weapon. But the western countries and America in particular through false propaganda claim that Iran seeks to build nuclear bombs which is totally false and a breach of the legitimate rights of the Iranian nation.”
      June 4, 2009 in a speech marking the 20th anniversary of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s death
      “Even though the Iranian nation does not have an atomic bomb and keeps no intention to possess the deadly weapon, the world acknowledges that it is a dignified nation because the dignity of the nation has emerged from its resolve, faith, good deed and bright goals.”
      Sept. 9, 2007 in a speech to Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commanders
            Iran “is not, and the westerners know it well, after a nuclear weapon, because it stands contrary to the country's political and economic interests as well as Islam's statute.”
            Jan. 18, 2006 to Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov’s visiting delegation
            “No sir, we are not seeking to have nuclear weapons… [to] manufacture, possess or use them, that all poses a problem. I have expressed my religious convictions about this, and everyone knows it.”
            Nov. 5, 2004 in a Friday sermon
            “The Islamic Republic of Iran, based on its fundamental religious and legal beliefs, would never resort to the use of weapons of mass destruction," Khamenei said recently. "In contrast to the propaganda of our enemies, fundamentally we are against any production of weapons of mass destruction in any form.”
            October 2003, according to the San Francisco Chronicle
July 14 Update: Iran released the most detailed report to date explaining its practical needs for its nuclear program. It was posted on the quasi-official website NuclearEnergy.ir.
Photo credit: Khamenei.ir via Facebook

Iran Nuke Program 4: ABCs of Talks So Far

           The following is a rundown of key events in diplomacy on Iran’s nuclear program since President Hassan Rouhani took office in August 2013.

Sept. 26 – Foreign ministers from P5+1 countries (Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States) and Iran met on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly and agreed to hold a new round of talks in Geneva.
Sept. 27 – President Barack Obama called Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in what was the first direct communication between a U.S. and Iranian presidents since the 1979 revolution. “The two of us discussed our ongoing efforts to reach an agreement over Iran’s nuclear program,” Obama said at a White House briefing.
Oct. 15-16 – Diplomats from P5+1 countries and Iran met in Geneva to solve the nuclear dispute. They committed to meeting in November to continue talks that were “substantive and forward looking.”
Nov. 7-10 – Iran and the P5+1 made significant headway but ultimately failed to finalize an agreement. Foreign ministers rushed to Geneva as a breakthrough appeared imminent. But last-minute differences, reportedly spurred by French demands for tougher terms, blocked a deal.
Nov. 11 – IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano visited Tehran. He and Iran’s chief of the Atomic Energy Organization, Ali Akbar Salehi, signed a Framework for Cooperation Agreement committing Tehran to take practical steps towards transparency within three months.
Nov. 24 – Iran and the P5+1 reached an interim agreement that would significantly constrain Tehran’s nuclear program for six months in exchange for modest sanctions relief. Iran pledged to neutralize its stockpile of near-20 percent enriched uranium, halt enrichment above five percent and stop installing centrifuges. Tehran also committed to halt construction of the Arak heavy water reactor.
Dec. 11 – Iran and the IAEA met in Vienna to review the status of the six actions Iran committed to in November as part of the Framework for Cooperation Agreement.  
Jan. 9-12 – The P5+1 and Iran met in Geneva and reach an agreement on implementation. The delegations returned to their capitals for approval. On January 12, the parties announced that the Joint Plan of Action will be implemented starting on January 20.
Jan. 20 – The Joint Plan of Action entered into force. The IAEA also issued a report stating that Iran is complying with the deal after reducing their 20% enrichment stockpile and halting work on the Arak heavy water reactor. The United States and European Union announced they have taken steps to waive certain sanctions and release a schedule for releasing Iran’s oil money frozen in other countries.
Feb.18-20 – The P5+1 and Iran agreed on a framework for final negotiations on February 20 after three days of discussion in Geneva.  
March 3 – IAEA chief Yukiya Amano announced that Iran has implemented the six measures contained in the Framework for Cooperation Agreement but also notes that “much remains to be done to resolve all outstanding issues.”
March 19 – The P5+1 and Iran held another round of closed-door talks on a final nuclear agreement. Ashton and Zarif described their discussions on the Arak heavy water reactor and Western sanctions as “substantive and useful.”
March 20 – The IAEA released a report detailing Iran’s implementation of the interim nuclear deal brokered in November 2013. The report noted that Tehran has not enriched any more uranium to 20 percent. But it had not yet completed a facility to convert low-enriched uranium gas into an oxide, which would need to be reprocessed to fuel a weapon.
April 7-9 – The P5+1 and Iran met in Vienna to continue negotiations on a final nuclear agreement. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and E.U. foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton reported that they had “substantive and detailed discussions” on all relevant issues.
April 17 – The U.S. State Department announced that Washington had taken steps to release $450 million installment of frozen Iranian funds after the IAEA verified Tehran is complying with the interim nuclear agreement.
May 13-16 – The P5+1 and Iran meet in Vienna to begin drafting a final agreement. The talks end without any tangible progress. But both sides commit to another round of talks in June. 

June 9-10 U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns lead a team of officials to Geneva for bilateral talks with Iran to prepare for the next round of P5+1 talks.
June 16-20 The P5+1 met in Geneva and produced an outline of a draft agreement but did not make much progress on the core issue of uranium enrichment. They agreed to meet on July 2 and hold continuous talks until the July 20 expiration date.
July 3-19 The P5+1 began marathon talks on July 3, less than three weeks form the due date for a deal. After about a week and half of discussions, some foreign ministers, including Kerry, Zarif and Hague, went to Vienna to check on progress of the talks. On June 19, the two sides announced that the will extend the talks through November 24, eactly one year since the interim agreement was brokered. Iran agreed to take further steps to decrease its 20 percent enriched uranium stockpile. In return, the P5+1 nations agreed to repatriate $2.8 billion in frozen funds back to Iran.
July 14 Update: Iran released the most detailed report to date explaining its practical needs for its nuclear program. It was posted on the quasi-official website NuclearEnergy.ir.
Sept. 18-26 – Iran and the P5+1 resumed talks on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York. Several meetings were held, including a one-on-one meeting between Kerry and Zarif, in which they also discussed the threat posed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. The sides did not reach an understanding on major issues such as uranium enrichment and sanctions relief.

Oct. 14-16 – The P5+1 and Iran met in Vienna and made a little progress. But disagreements over Tehran’s uranium enrichment capabilities and a timeline for implementing a deal remained. Officials emphasized that the sides had not given up on the November 24 due-date for a deal and that the talks focused on a “full agreement,” not just understandings of key issues.

Nov. 9-11 Kerry, Zarif, and Ashton met for two days of trilateral talks in Oman, followed by a day of meetings between Iran and the full P5+1. The removal of sanctions and levels of uranium enrichment were among the issues on the table, but officials did not report any significant progress from this round of discussions.

Nov. 19-21 The final round of talks began in Vienna. On November 19, Zarif and Ashton held a meeting, and the U.S. and Iranian teams held bilateral talks. Kerry arrived in Vienna on November 20 after meeting with Omani foreign minister Yusuf bin Alawi in London and French foreign minister Laurent Fabius in Paris. Kerry, Ashton, and Zarif held another round of discussions on November 21, but Zarif noted that he had received "no remarkable proposals to take to Tehran" after the meeting.

Nov. 24 Officials from Iran and P5+1 missed the deadline for a deal and announced that talks will be extended by seven months, with a political agreement to be in place by March.
Dec. 17 Iran and the P5+1 held talks at the deputy level in Geneva. Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi told reporters that the “intense negotiations” were “very useful and helpful.” No E.U. statement was released after the talks and the U.S. delegation did not provide comments to the press.

Photo Credits: EU External Action Service and  U.S. State Department via Flickr


US: Iran Deal Difficult, But Possible

            On November 17, senior Obama administration officials said that Iran and the world’s six major powers and have not discussed extending the nuclear talks. Both sides are still focused on meeting the November 24 deadline. “We hope that this will be a week when decisions are made, and we understand they are difficult decisions all the way around,” an official said in a background briefing. The following are excerpts.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: As we all know, we’re getting close to the November 24th deadline, and we are focused on whether we can get a comprehensive understanding concluded by that date. The Secretary of State John Kerry and the entire negotiating team were in Oman last week for trilateral discussions with the European Union and Iran, and then the Secretary departed and the rest of us stayed in Muscat for another day of meetings with the P5+1 political directors and Iran as well. The conversations were, as they’ve been previously described, tough, direct, and serious. Our experts have continued to be in constant communication with our partners and with Iran to keep hammering away at the technical issues that are part of these talks. We have continued to make some progress in the course of these negotiations, but we still have gaps to close, and we do not yet know if we will be able to do so.
I know much has been made in the press of whether we will take more time if we can’t get this done by the 24th. I can tell you that extension is not and has not been a subject of negotiations at this point. Right now is the time for Iran to back up its words and the Supreme Leader's fatwa with credible and verifiable actions that they have not sought and have no intention to seek a nuclear weapon. Now we need a set of understandings to give the international community assurance that that is indeed the case now and for the future. We hope that this will be a week when decisions are made, and we understand they are difficult decisions all the way around.
QUESTION: Okay, thanks. So listen, I wanted to ask about the reports of an eight-page proposal or recommendation given by the U.S. delegation or Secretary Kerry himself in Oman to the Iranian side, and there’ve been reports from the Iranian side that that proposal would bring the talks back to zero. And yet at the same time, we’re seeing a – some more optimism in the Iranian press then we’re seeing on the rest of the P5+1 side. So I want to ask you if you can square that for us a little bit. What was in that eight-page recommendation to the extent you can say, and why are we seeing different levels of expectation on the two sides?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Well, I’m not going to talk about any particulars of the negotiation, which will not come as any surprise to you. And there was not a piece of paper that the Iranians walked away with. There were discussions of detailed parameters that were, in fact, parameters agreed to by the P5+1. We have stayed quite united in our efforts with the negotiations with Iran.
As to why we’re hearing a variety of voices, I think we hear a variety of voices in every country about this negotiation, and Iran is no different. You’d have to ask them for their assessment of why there are differences. But certainly here we have people who very much believe we should get an agreement or a deal, an understanding with Iran; others that believe there’s no way to, nor should we. So I think throughout the world, there are a wide range of views.
The view that is consistent, however, is that – from the international community and certainly the P5+1 – is – and as the President of the United States has said – we have to make sure that Iran cannot obtain a nuclear weapon, that all the pathways to fissile material for a nuclear weapon are shut down, and that the international community has the assurances it needs over time that Iran’s program is exclusively peaceful.
QUESTION:   I understand that you said you haven’t discussed the idea of an extension, but what we’re hearing from a number of countries involved in the talks, that while everyone is sincerely working to get some kind of agreement before the 24th, there’s a sense that it’s simply not going to be possible and that a very possible scenario is some kind of outline of an agreement… So I wonder if you could give us a sense of how far along you are on those issues that have been the most difficult ones from the very beginning.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Well, I think we will not know how far we’re going to get and whether we can get to a comprehensive agreement – a joint comprehensive plan of action until we get to the 24th of November. We have had very detailed discussions on every subject that would be part of such a plan of action, and so there are not new things that have to get put on the table, just understandings that have to be reached. 
As I said, there are areas where we have made progress, and I’m very glad for that, but there are still areas in which there are very serious gaps that have to be addressed. Whether they can be in this time frame remains to be seen. We have tried to be open to ideas as long as it meets the metric that the President has laid out, that all the pathways to fissile material for a nuclear weapon are shut down, that we get the assurances we need that Iran is not seeking or – and will not obtain a nuclear weapon. There are many ways to those metrics, and that is what we are seeking to do here.
I think that this is obviously an understanding or joint comprehensive plan of action where the details matter enormously, so even if we come to a general understanding of some of the largest parameters, we will not be able to announce that we have reached a joint comprehensive plan of action without also knowing the details. So we are trying to make as much progress – and in fact, it is still possible to do it all. Difficult, but possible.
QUESTION: We’re all trying to figure is how this correlates with both what the IAEA is doing and what I think you’ve referred to in the past as doing additional protocol plus. And some of us are trying to figure out how we explain to readers what “plus” means. 
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: In terms of the IAEA, all I want to say about that is that all of us, including, of course, Cathy Ashton, have stayed in close touch with Director General Amano. We want to make sure that whatever we do does not compromise the independence of the IAEA, is consistent with the objectives that the IAEA is seeking in its responsibilities, and that any joint comprehensive plan of action obviously we will rely on the International Atomic Energy Agency, as we have in the Joint Plan of Action. And so we have tried to have very close consultations while being very mindful of their independence.
QUESTION: Secretary Kerry has said really it’s up to – it’s a political decision that Iran has to make… or are there also still political decisions, put loosely, that the American side has to make? In other words, is it a matter of will or technical details?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Oh, it’s probably some of both, Margaret. There are some fundamental decisions that have to get made, and I’m sure they can only be made by the Supreme Leader and the President of Iran, just as here in the United States decisions have to be taken not only by the Secretary of State, but by the President of the United States. And we have stayed in close consultation with the United States Congress as well, because we have three branches of government and the Congress has been an important player in this entire process and helped to get Iran to consider these negotiations, and indeed were critical to achieving the Joint Plan of Action. We also have partners all over the world with whom we consult because the decisions made here not only affect the United States and the P5+1, but in quite profound and fundamental ways the security – the peace and security of the world. 
So we understand the tremendous responsibility that all of us who are part of this negotiation bear. The stakes are quite high, very important – take everybody’s political will, everybody’s expertise. Our national labs have been simply spectacular in helping us to work through technical details, see if there are any technical solutions to some of the very difficult and thorny problems here. We have had people all over our government, from the U.N., of course, to every – virtually every major department of this government help us see if we cannot come to an understanding that ensures that the President’s metrics are met and that we have an understanding that is also scientifically defensible and durable.
QUESTION: How would you characterize any adjustments or just kind of the general attitude of the Iranians over the last one or two months as we’ve gotten closer to this deadline? Have you detected a greater flexibility or not, a greater creativity or not? 
And on the other side too from the negotiating team on the U.S. side, what adjustments do you think have also been required in these last – in this last month or two as you get close?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: I think the best way to describe them is the way I’ve described them already in my opening remarks – tough, direct, serious. I think that’s true for all of us. We all understand what we’re doing here. We all understand the responsibility of what we are doing here. This is difficult. If it weren’t difficult, it would have been solved a long time ago. We have made more progress than anyone would have expected in first halting the advance of Iran’s program and creating a space and time so we can see if we can come to an agreement and understanding around a joint comprehensive plan of action that resolves all of the outstanding issues and meets the metrics that the President has set out. 
But these are tough discussions. They are very direct. We know each other well enough to be quite direct. They are very serious. Everyone approaches this with seriousness. And it sort of doesn’t work to say, “Well, were you flexible this week and inflexible next week?” There is an ebb and flow in any negotiation, and that is true in this one as well. 
QUESTION: Prime Minister Netanyahu said a few days ago that he has reports that the P5+1 are on the way for a bad deal with Iran. So first if you can comment on that. Second, did you speak in the last few days with your Israeli colleagues to update them on what’s going to happen in this last round of talks?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: I will say that, of course, we have stayed in close consultation with Israel, as we have stayed in close consultation with the Gulf states, as we have stayed in close consultation with partners and allies and interested parties all around the world. There are many, many countries, I know, that Helga Schmid with the European Union just today was briefing the 28 political directors of the European Union. So we all stay in very close consultation. And I went up and briefed in a classified setting leadership and ranking of the House, and one of my colleagues will be briefing the Senate tomorrow along with some other members of our Administration, as I did with House last week. So consultation is critical, because as I said, this understanding has a profound impact or the joint comprehensive plan of action will have a profound impact on not just on the P5+1 but on peace and security in the world. 
In terms of the Prime Minister's comments, I will let the Prime Minister – of course, he is the leader of his country and will say whatever he thinks is appropriate. I am absolutely sure that if the President of the United States believes that we have reached a deal, reached a joint comprehensive plan of action, it will be a good one. The President will not do anything but to ensure that all the pathways to fissile material for a nuclear weapon are shut down, that Iran cannot obtain a nuclear weapon, and that it is in the security interests of the United States. And as the President said, he would not do anything that he did not believe was not in the security interests of Israel and our other partners around the world. At the end of the day, the Prime Minister, of course, as the leader of his country and responsible for Israel’s security, will make his own judgment.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: And I would just add to that that the Secretary speaks to Prime Minister Netanyahu very regularly. He spoke to him today and also called him from the plane when we left Muscat to brief him out on the discussions he’d had there. So at all levels have remained in close touch.

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