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The Iran Primer

Iran Primer's Blog

Part IV: Media Roundup on GOP Letter

The following is a snapshot of editorials from U.S. newspapers and media outlets on the GOP letter to Iran’s leaders.
 
The Washington Post
 
 
Congressional Republicans are trying to obstruct President Obama from concluding a nuclear agreement with Iran, but the only tangible result of their efforts has been to impede serious debate about the legitimate issues arising from the potential deal. The latest GOP gambit, an open letter to Iran’s leaders disparaging any accord not approved by Congress, prompted predictable blasts of rhetoric from the White House, the Senate caucuses and even the Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, but not a word of discussion about what the Republicans say worries them: whether the terms being offered to Iran by the Obama administration are in the United States’ interest.
Republicans had an opportunity to focus attention on weaknesses in the emerging accord with Iran and mobilize bipartisan pressure on the administration to demand better terms. Instead they have engaged in grandstanding tactics that have alienated potential supporters while obscuring critical issues. Their antics are making it easier rather than harder for Mr. Obama to proceed unilaterally.
 
The Wall Street Journal
 
 
President Obama's looming nuclear deal with Iran may be the security blunder of the young century, and Congress should vote on it. Which is why it's too bad that Republican Senators took their eye off that ball on Monday with a letter to the government of Iran.
The problem with the GOP letter is that it's a distraction from what should be the main political goal of persuading the American people. Democratic votes will be needed if the pact is going to be stopped, and even to get the 67 votes to override a veto of the Corker-Menendez bill to require such a vote. Monday's letter lets Mr. Obama change the subject to charge that Republicans are playing politics as he tries to make it harder for Democrats to vote for Corker-Menendez.

The New York Times
 
 
The letter was an attempt to scare the Iranians from making a deal that would limit their nuclear program for at least a decade by issuing a warning that the next president could simply reverse any agreement. It was a blatant, dangerous effort to undercut the president on a grave national security issue by communicating directly with a foreign government.
The best and only practical way to restrain Iran from developing a bomb is through negotiating a strict agreement with tough monitoring. In rejecting diplomacy, the Republicans make an Iranian bomb and military conflict more likely.
 
Los Angeles Times
 
 
[W]hat is most objectionable about the senators' letter is neither its condescending tone nor its legal analysis. It's the fact that the letter injects the senators into ongoing international negotiations that are properly the prerogative of the executive branch — with the obvious intention of subverting those negotiations. Not only does this intervention put the senators on the same side as Iranian hard-liners who are opposed to a deal — a point made Monday by Obama — but it will make it easier for Iran to blame the U.S. if the talks fail to produce an agreement.
 
The Boston Globe
 
“GOP letter to Iran is a reckless intrusion into nuclear talks”
 
Winning sympathy for the renegade Islamic Republic of Iran is no easy trick. But Republicans in the US Senate seem to be accomplishing it with their breathtakingly reckless intrusion into international diplomacy.
 
Under the guise of an American civics lesson pointedly but also pointlessly aimed at Iran’s already isolated, mistrustful, hostile-to-the-United States leadership, Senate Republicans may sabotage highly delicate negotiations to persuade Tehran to curb its nuclear development program in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.
  
The letter not only undercuts the president’s traditional authority to oversee the shaping of foreign policy but badly undermines America’s credibility in the international community. It speaks to the toxic levels of partisanship in Washington that not a single Senate Democrat was willing to sign the poison pen letter, although more than a few are skeptical of Iran’s long-term intentions and are fearful of what it might portend for Israel — Iran’s blood enemy.
 
USA Today
 
“'Dear Iran' letter subverts nuclear talks”
 
It's not every day that you see U.S. senators pressing leaders of a hostile power to help them kill off American-led negotiations aimed at removing a potential nuclear threat to the United States and its allies.
 
In fact, nothing quite like that had ever happened until Monday, when 47 Republican senators wrote a letter to the leaders of Iran warning that any agreement they reach with President Obama to curtail Iran's nuclear weapons program might be reversed by a future president.
..
At a minimum, the senators have given Iran a way to reject the deal and escape blame.
 
This is neither a small nor improbable thing.
 
Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has been under pressure from hard-line factions to walk away. Like the senators, he could see the deal as a bad one, requiring inspections that he considers to be too intrusive or lifting sanctions too slowly for his liking.
 
Miami Herald
 
 
The open letter to Iran by 47 Republican senators questioning the value of any agreement to freeze its nuclear program is another troubling break with precedent that threatens to undermine the president’s ability to conduct foreign policy.
 
The letter is little more than a mischievous attempt to throw a monkey wrench into a years-long, multinational effort to obtain a secure, verifiable agreement with Iran to stop its nuclear-weapons program through diplomacy, rather than war. It’s hard to see how Republicans can reject a deal when they know little more than the outline of the proposal that is still being worked out, especially since they have no reasonable alternative to offer.
 
The Star-Ledger (New Jersey)
 
 
The amateurish missive succeeded in doing little but giving the hardliners in Tehran hope that the negotiations will crumble, as their chief argument is that the United States cannot be trusted.
If the U.S. causes negotiations to fail -- because their war profiteers and their Congressional enablers undermine the president's diplomatic authority -- the UN Security Council breaks ranks, lifts sanctions, and Cotton earns his place in infamy.
 
It's up to Congress whether it prefers war and political posturing to a verifiable agreement. The wrong decision could ostracize the U.S., create another nuclear player in the Middle East, and throw the world into further turmoil.
 
San Francisco Chronicle
 
 
Washington’s unrelenting partisanship is hitting an all-time low. Senate Republicans are brazenly undermining White House talks with Iran over nuclear weapons by warning Tehran that any deal won’t stick with the next president.
 
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
 
 
The letter sent Monday by 47 Republican senators to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, warning him not to sign an agreement with major nations limiting his country’s nuclear program, was damaging to America’s role in the world.
America’s partners in the talks are among the world’s most important nations — China, France, Germany, Russia and the United Kingdom. They can only be appalled at seeing Secretary of State John Kerry and the president, who are charged with making the nation’s foreign policy, hit from behind by one house of the federal legislature.
 
The senators who signed the letter should be ashamed.
 
Albany Times Union
 
 
Other than Iran's unlikely capitulation, the Republicans — as usual in disagreements with President Barack Obama — offer no alternative, other than perhaps an unstated desire for war.
 
The Republicans who signed this foolish letter should listen to their own members who chose not to participate in this partisan attack on a sitting president. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said it would be appropriate for senators to give advice to the president and Secretary Kerry instead of going directly to Tehran.
 
Rather than listening to their reasonable colleagues, the Republicans who signed this letter are merely continuing to try to undermine President Obama at every turn. Their actions risk undoing years of high-stakes negotiations and threaten the stability of the Mideast, all for the sake of scoring some partisan political points.
 
Cleveland Plain Dealer
 
 
The decision by 47 Republican senators to sign a patronizing open letter to the leaders of Iran seeking to instruct them on how the U.S. constitutional system works -- and, by the way, to upend talks closing in on a nuclear weapons deal -- is as depressingly partisan as it is shortsighted.
It is in the United States' interest to negotiate the toughest possible deal that can put the brakes on Iran's drive for nuclear weapons with full, intrusive inspections and controls on its near-weapons-grade fuel stocks.
 
That aim is undercut by the March 9 letter basically telling the ayatollahs not to bother to negotiate.
 
The Courier Journal (Kentucky)
 
 
Has Congress gone crazy?
 
That’s what many U.S. observers and much of the world must be wondering after a group of rogue Republican senators opted to communicate directly by letter with “the leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” seeking to undercut President Barack Obama’s ongoing negotiations with Iran over nuclear enrichment.

Whatever the outcome of negotiations with Iran, the 47 senators have done immeasurable harm to their image and U.S. credibility in world affairs. It is regrettable that Kentucky’s two senators were among them.

Salt Lake Tribune
 
It will be up to history to judge whether the latest partisan stunt joined by Utah Sens. Mike Lee and Orrin Hatch amounts to an act of End Times warmongering or merely another bit of cringe-worthy buffoonery on the global stage.
 
Chances are that the foolish, dangerous and arguably felonious attempt by the Obama Derangement Caucus of the Senate will soon be forgotten. Unless, as President Obama himself muttered the other day, the Senate Republicans make common cause with the hard-liners in Iran to push the region, and the world, that much closer to nuclear war.

A nuclear-armed Iran is very much a thing to be avoided if at all possible. But, so far, the talks the Senate Republicans seem determined to undermine are the best hope of avoiding such a situation. Or at least pushing it back toward a not-so-distant day when the religious supreme leadership of that nation has left the stage and is succeeded by a more representative, and less confrontational, regime.
 
By seeking to undermine not only these negotiations, but also the political authority of this and all future presidents to conduct America's foreign policy, the senators seem determined to build tensions in the Middle East, endanger Israel and greatly increase the chances that the United States will wind up taking military action against Iran.
 
The Arizona Central Republic
 
 
The Republicans said they sent the letter because they consider the deal with Iran to be insufficient, unworkable and a mortal threat to the stability of the Middle East generally and a vital U.S. ally, Israel, in particular.
 
While their concerns may be valid, it is no business of senators to interfere with the negotiations of the elected official with the authority to barter with Iran, the president.
If President Obama has demonstrated a disdain for his constitutional authority, the 47 GOP senators have just joined him in a bipartisan display of contempt for our governing document. Their actions may fall short of the "traitorous" declamations of Democrats, but "irresponsible" would certainly apply.
 
Concord Monitor
 
 
[T]he letter may not have any effect on negotiations with Iran, a nation that understands the game as well as anybody. As columnist Robert Azzi wrote in the Sunday Monitor this past weekend, Iranian leaders’ “over-the-top rhetoric” is “designed primarily for home consumption to keep the fanatical Revolutionary Guard at bay.” The Republican senators’ letter serves the same purpose here in the United States. They are catering to their anti-Obama base and are willing to do real long-term damage to the office of the presidency if it means briefly wounding Obama and Democrats politically.
 
Baltimore Sun
 
“The GOP's poison pen note”
 
Congress has a long history of criticizing the White House's handling of foreign policy, but the letter sent by 47 Republican senators to Iran's leaders this week was virtually unprecedented. Signed by all but seven Senate Republicans, it bluntly warned Tehran that any deal made with the U.S. over Iran's disputed nuclear program won't be worth the paper it's printed on. The poison pen note was a shocking example of just how far President Barack Obama's GOP critics in Congress are willing to go in an effort to undercut his foreign policy goals.
The GOP senators might just as well have put up a big sign over their chamber warning the mullahs in Tehran to prepare for war because that's the practical import of rejecting any possibility of a negotiated resolution of the two countries' differences.
 
Newsday
 
 
Did Republican senators really think Iranian leaders needed a primer on how the U.S. government works? The open letter they sent to the leaders of Iran Monday was an unnecessary partisan stunt that detracts from what matters most.
 
That is, any deal with Iran must include a requirement for unannounced inspections of its nuclear facilities. Verification must be pervasive and intrusive enough to give the world confidence that if Iran cheats, it will be caught before it can produce a bomb.
The risk, however, is sabotaging the multination negotiations and leaving Iran unrestrained in building nuclear weapons. That's a bad path that could lead to use of military force to stop Iran's pursuit of a bomb.
 
Detroit Free Press
 
 
America looks weakest when its internal arguments spill over into its international diplomacy — something that has been rare in the nation's history.
 
That it is happening now is a blot on the 114th U.S. Senate; specifically, on the 47 Republican senators who signed an open letter to the Islamic Republic of Iran, a missive whose sole purpose is to end President Barack Obama's ongoing nuclear negotiations with that country.
But the Republicans who dispatched this letter have done more than embarrass a president they dislike. They have also disgraced themselves and undermined the credibility of the nation whose constitution they took an oath to uphold.
 
The News and Observer (North Carolina)
 
“Burr, Tillis add their names to outrageous letter to Iran”
 
This is one of the most horrid and tangible examples of pure partisanship run amok in modern times. So much do Republicans resent the fact that President Obama has won two terms they’ll now resort to blowing up a negotiation aimed at preventing war in the Middle East. This, despite the fact that since the presidency of George Washington, America has always tried to present a united front to the world. Time and again, Congress has stood behind presidents in war and in peace in the name of national unity.

But if the president, Secretary of State John Kerry and American allies are able to negotiate, for example, a 10-year hold on nuclear development, the Iran of 2025 may be much different than the Iran of today. Isn’t trying diplomacy better than a war into which United States forces most certainly would be drawn?
 
Sacramento Bee (California)
 
 
It’s one thing for Republicans in Congress to invite an ally to criticize a potential nuclear deal with Iran, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did last week.
 
But it’s beyond the pale to write to the leaders of a potential enemy to sabotage the negotiations, as 47 GOP senators did Monday.
Seven Republican senators had the good sense not to sign on. “I don’t think that the ayatollah is going to be particularly convinced by a letter from members of the Senate, even one signed by a number of my distinguished and high-ranking colleagues,” said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.
 
Iranian officials said as much. So if the ayatollah is going to ignore the letter and the president is brushing it off, what was the point again?
 
The Denver Post
 
 
Do you get the feeling that Republican members of Congress really, really don't like the deal the Obama administration is negotiating with Iran?
 
First there was the rapturous reception for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who denounced the possible deal. And now 47 GOP senators — including Colorado's Cory Gardner — have sent a letter to Iran instructing the regime that a purely "executive agreement" could be revoked by the next president. As if the Iranians wouldn't already know that.

The reality is that if the agreement actually serves America's interest, even a Republican president would be unlikely to revoke it in 2017, given the race for a nuclear bomb that would likely follow.
 
Kansas City Star  
 
 
Yael T. Abouhalkah (Editorial page columnist)
 
The three GOP U.S. senators representing Kansas and Missouri signed on to a letter that undermined President Barack Obama’s ability to work out a nuclear deal with Iran.
 
Some detractors are labeling as traitorous Monday’s actions by Pat Roberts, Jerry Moran, Roy Blunt and 44 other Republicans.
 
The critics offer a plausible reason for being so upset: The letter was a near-unprecedented attempt by one party to meddle in the foreign diplomatic affairs of the United States, as presented by the president.
 

Given the Republicans’ pure hatred of Obama, it also seemed extra personal, yet another politically motivated attempt to stop him from doing anything that might be perceived as a victory for his administration.

The Tennessean

 
The new Senate leadership has decided that instead of allowing experienced professional diplomats to try to negotiate a nuclear disarmament deal with America’s longtime enemy Iran, it should let a freshman senator lead an amateurish and unprecedented effort to undermine U.S. foreign policy.
As much as our diplomats study Iran’s laws and culture, it might be safe to say that their diplomats do the same to us. So, the civics lesson on balance and separation of powers really was useless. What is confounding and should unnerve Americans is that these senators would try to embarrass their president in the face of a mutual enemy — and put our citizens’ national security at risk.
The Anniston Star
 
 
We are struck by your letter that condescendingly attempts to lecture Iran’s leadership on the fine points of the U.S. Constitution while at the same time blatantly trampled on the constitutionally defined roles in foreign affairs of presidents and members of Congress. In short, the chief executive negotiates and the Senate ratifies, or not, as the case may be.
 
Yet, your letter is a clear attempt to preemptively wreck the president’s attempts at a settlement to put Iran’s nuclear ambitions in check. And this provocative letter is well beyond the protocol for how the U.S. government negotiates international treaties.
 
The Republican (Massachusetts)
 
 
Before Democrats and their left-leaning allies across the land get even more riled up about a letter sent to Iranian leaders by 47 Senate Republicans, they may wish to take a moment to recall a time when members of their own party did much the same to a Republican president. Oh, no, wait a minute – that didn't happen.
Just seven of 54 GOP senators had the good sense not to sign the letter. The others acted rashly and allowed their passions to rule the day. They imprudently and shamefully put politics above our national interest, damaging our standing. Our nation will recover, but it shouldn't have to.
 
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
 
 
We're not saying Cotton can't have his own opinions about what to do in Iraq. The letter, however, was designed to interfere and disrupt, or to shock and awe, if you will, a nation Cotton views as an enemy that should only be dealt with as an enemy. Iran isn't any friend of the United States, but engaging in talks to work out a possible deal is a better approach than pushing for a showdown. Cotton is a little too eager to draw a line in the sand.
 
The Commerical Appeal – Memphis
 
 
The letter sent by 47 Republican senators to Iran's leaders — saying that any agreement the U.S. reached with them without congressional approval could be reversed by the next president "with a stroke of a pen" — is wrong on so many levels that it is hard to know where to start.

 

 

 

Billings Gazette (Montana)

 
 
The real galling part of this letter is the feigned concern for Iran. Sure, every leader — every American — should be concerned about Iran and nuclear weapons. However, Iran seems to be a convenient backdrop for what is really a political grudge match. The issue really isn’t about Iran. Instead, it’s about a power struggle between the president and Congress — a Republican Congress that is still reeling from questionable immigration policies done by executive order; or, maybe it’s the fallout from the somewhat successful yet vilified Obamacare health insurance program.

 

Providence Journal
 
 
Members of Congress have a constitutional right, and even a duty, to weigh in on matters affecting American security and foreign policy. But they should respect that the president is responsible for conducting the nation's foreign policy -- and refrain from undercutting those efforts in communications with foreign governments.
Even in the current Washington environment, writing letters to hostile foreign governments at a time when the State Department is trying to achieve a diplomatic breakthrough seems well beyond the pale. The Republican senators did not serve their country or their party well with this stunt.
 
Tags: Media

Nuke Talks: Latest from Iran, P5+1

On March 2, deputy foreign ministers from Iran and the world’s six major powers – Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United States – resumed negotiations over Iran’s controversial nuclear program in Montreux, Switzerland. Separately, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif held bilateral talks with Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Geneva, planning to join the rest of the negotiators in Montreux on March 5. The two sides are less than a month away from a self-imposed deadline for a political framework for a deal.

The new round of talks coincided with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s controversial visit to Washington, D.C. to voice opposition to a potential nuclear deal before Congress. Zarif criticized Netanyahu’s speech as “scaremongering.”
 
The following are recent excerpted remarks by officials on the status of the nuclear negotiations.
 

Iran

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

On February 26, Khamenei's official Twitter account highlighted a number of the Supreme Leader's past statements on the nuclear issue.

 
President Hassan Rouhani
 
"It is currently clear to everyone that Iran is a side who is completely serious in the talks."
– March 2, 2015, according to the press
 
"The nuclear issue has no other solutions than negotiation; the negotiations sought fundamentally to create mutual confidence, and we believe that sanctions should be eliminated once altogether."
– March 1, 2015, according to the press
 
"The world is pleased with the progress in the negotiations between Iran and the Group 5+1 (the US, Russia, China, Britain and France plus Germany) since the results of this progress and agreement benefit the region and the world as well as the development, trade, economy, culture and settlement of the problems and threats created by extremism in the region and the world." 
– March 3, 2015, according to the press
 
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif
 
"[Netanyahu] is against any solution” and his speech in the U.S. will show his desire “to derail peace in the region through scaremongering and spreading lies, even inside other countries.”
 
“It’s a futile effort and it must not become an obstacle to reaching an agreement.”
 
“We are hopeful that this week we can attain more progress on other issues, especially the removal of these cruel sanctions, and then we can formulate this progress into a comprehensive, precise and workable agreement.”
– Feb. 28, 2015, according to the press
 
“It is unfortunate that there is a group which sees its interests in tension and crisis.”
 
Netanyahu’s bid was “an attempt to utilize a fabricated crisis to cover up realities in the region, including occupation, the suppression of Palestinians and the violation of their rights.”
 
“It is an on old policy to intimidate and spread lies in order to prevent peace in the region.”
– Feb. 28, 2015, at a joint press conference with Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni
 
"Our negotiating partners, particularly the Western countries and particularly the United States, must once and for all come to the understanding that sanctions and agreement don't go together.”
 
"If they want an agreement, sanctions must go... We believe all sanctions must be lifted."
 
"We have made some progress since last time and if there is the political will to accept that an agreement and sanctions cannot go together, then we can have an agreement this time."
– March 3, 2015, according to the press
 
 
"Iran is not about building nuclear weapons...We don't want to build nuclear weapons, we don't believe nuclear weapons bring security to anybody, certainly not to us."
 
Iran's nuclear ambitions are solely in the pursuit of "scientific advancement" and boosting national pride. "Once we reach that understanding, once this hysteria is out, once this fear mongering is out, then we can have a deal, and a deal that is not going to hurt anybody."
 
"We are prepared to work round the clock in order to reach an agreement. We believe that we are very close, very close and we could be very far...there are details that need to be worked out."
 

"We are very close if the political decision can be made to get to yes, as President Obama said."

– March 4, 2015, in an interview with NBC News

Atomic Energy Organizaton of Iran Leader Ali Akbar Salehi

"We have taken very good steps and managed to remove, as we believe, their fake concerns and worries through the technical offers we proposed."
– March 7, 2015, according to the press

The United States

 
President Barack Obama
 
“There is enormous suspicion between the Iranian regime and the world, not just the United States.
 
The Iranians have negotiated seriously because we were able to bring them to the table through some of the toughest sanctions that have been ever put in place. We have made progress in narrowing the gaps, but those gaps still exist. And I would say that over the next month or so, we're going to be able to determine whether or not their system is able to accept what would be an extraordinarily reasonable deal, if in fact, as they say, they are only interested in peaceful nuclear programs.
 
And if we have unprecedented transparency in that system, if we are able to verify that in fact they are not developing weapon systems, then there's deal to be had. But that's going to require them to accept the kind of verification and constraints on their program that, so far at least, they have not been willing to say yes to.”
 
“I think it is fair to say that there is an urgency because we now have been negotiating for well over a year.
 
And the good news is, is that during this period Iran has abided by the terms of the agreement, we know what is happening on the ground in Iraq. They have not advanced their nuclear program. We have been able to roll back their 20 percent highly enriched uranium during this period of time. It's given us unprecedented access into what they are doing. So we're not losing anything through these talks.
 
“If there's no deal, then we walk away. If we cannot verify that they are not going to obtain a nuclear weapon, that there's a breakout period, so that even if they cheated we would be able to have enough time to take action, if we don't have that kind of deal, then we're not going to take it.”
– March 7, 2015, in an interview with CBS
 
Secretary of State John Kerry
 
QUESTION: Secretary Kerry, one of Iran’s vice presidents said today that Netanyahu’s speech actually serves Iran’s interests. I was recently in Iran and there were a lot of people who wanted this agreement. Does Netanyahu’s action actually help Iran?
 
SECRETARY KERRY: Yeah, I’m just not going to play the game of walking into a debate about Iranian propaganda with respect to this visit. As I said, the prime minister is welcome in the United States at any time. We have an – we have an unparalleled close security relationship with Israel and we will continue to.
 
President Obama has done more to ensure the security of Israel by the creation of Iron Dome, by the development of weapons that are specifically calculated to be able to deal with Iran’s nuclear weapon problem. And the president has pledged that they will not get a nuclear weapon.
 
Now, I guarantee you, we have said again and again, no deal is better than a bad deal. We’re not going to make a bad deal. But remember, Martha, there were many people who opposed the interim agreement and said that was terrible. The fact is, the interim agreement has been adhered to. It has been inspected. We have proven that we have slowed Iran’s, even set back its nuclear program. And we are going to continue now to the next step to see – I can’t promise you we can. But we are going to test whether or not diplomacy can prevent this weapon from being created, so you don’t have to return to additional measures, including the possibility of a military confrontation.
 
Our hope is diplomacy can work. And I believe, given our success on the interim agreement, I believe we deserve the benefit of the doubt to find out whether or not we can get a similarly good agreement with respect to the future. It is better to do this by diplomacy than to have to do a strategy militarily, which you would have to repeat over and over again and which I think everybody believes ought to be after you have exhausted all the diplomatic remedies.
 – March 1, 2015, in an interview with ABC’s Martha Raddatz
 
"We continue to believe, all the members of the P5+1, that the best way to deal with the questions surrounding this nuclear program is to find a comprehensive deal, but not a deal that comes at any cost, not a deal just for the purpose of a deal; a deal that meets the test of providing the answers and the guarantees that are needed in order to know that the four pathways to a nuclear bomb have been closed off.  And that is the task.  And we hope it is possible to get there, but there is no guarantee.
 
Sanctions alone are not going to provide that solution.  What needs to happen is that Iran needs to provide a verifiable set of commitments that its program is in fact peaceful.  And that average people and experts alike looking at that verifiable set of commitments have confidence that they are sustainable, that they are real, and that they will provide the answers and guarantees well into the future. 
 
Any deal must close every potential pathway that Iran has towards fissile material, whether it’s uranium, plutonium, or a covert path.  The fact is only a good, comprehensive deal in the end can actually check off all of those boxes. 
 
Now, I want to be clear about two things.  Right now, no deal exists, no partial deal exists.  And unless Iran is able to make the difficult decisions that will be required, there won’t be a deal.  Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.  That is the standard by which this negotiation is taking place, and anyone who tells you otherwise is simply misinformed.
 
Now, we are concerned by reports that suggest selective details of the ongoing negotiations will be discussed publicly in the coming days.  I want to say clearly that doing so would make it more difficult to reach the goal that Israel and others say they share in order to get a good deal.  Israel’s security is absolutely at the forefront of all of our minds, but frankly, so is the security of all the other countries in the region, so is our security in the United States.  And we are very clear that as we negotiate with Iran, if we are able to reach the kind of deal that we’re hoping for, then it would have to be considered in its entirety and measured against alternatives.
 
Second – I cannot emphasize this enough.  I have said this from the first moment that I become engaged in this negotiating process, President Obama has said this repeatedly:  We will not accept a bad deal.  We have said no deal is better than a bad deal, because a bad deal could actually make things less secure and more dangerous.  Any deal that we would possibly agree to would make the international community, and especially Israel, safer than it is today.  That’s our standard.  So our team is working very hard to close remaining gaps, to reach a deal that ensures Iran’s nuclear program is exclusively and verifiably peaceful, and we have made some progress, but we still have a long way to go and the clock is ticking."
– March 2, 2015, at a press briefing in Geneva
 
"As Foreign Minister Fabius said a moment ago, we want an agreement that’s solid.  We want an agreement that will guarantee that we are holding any kind of program that continues in Iran accountable to the highest standards so that we know that it is, in fact, a peaceful program.  All of us in the P5+1 are deeply committed to ensuring that Iran does not obtain a nuclear weapon.  And we continue to believe that a comprehensive deal that includes intrusive access and verification measures, and blocks each of the pathways to securing fissile material for a bomb and then to try and make a bomb itself, that the best way to achieve the goal is to shut off those pathways.
 
Now, I agree with Laurent.  We have exactly the same assessment.  We have made progress, but there remain gaps – divergences, as he said.  And we need to close those gaps.  And that is our goal over the course of the next days.  We have a critical couple of weeks ahead of us.  We’re all mindful that the days are ticking by.  But we’re not feeling a sense of urgency that we have to get any deal.  We have to get the right deal.  And it is frankly up to Iran – that wants this program, that wants a peaceful program, that asserts that they have a peaceful program – to show the world that it is indeed exactly what they say.  That’s the measure here.  And we planned a return to the talks.  Starting next Sunday, different folks will be having different conversations, and we look forward to trying to drive this thing to an appropriate conclusion.  And we will find out whether or not Iran is prepared to take the steps to answer the questions that the world has a right to get answers to."
– March 7, 2015, at a press briefing with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius in Paris
 
France
 
French Foreign Affairs Minister Laurent Fabius
 
"We are in favor of a solid agreement ... for now there remain difficulties. There has been progress but as far as the volume, checks and duration of the envisaged commitments are concerned, the situation is still insufficient, so there is more work to be done.”
– March 6, 2015 in remarks to reporters in Riga
 
European Union
 
High Representative Federica Mogherini
 
“I believe a good deal is at hand. I also believe that there is not going to be any deal if it is not going to be a good deal. And this is something we have to pass as a message to all our friends and partners.”
– March 6, 2015 at a foreign policy conference in Riga
 
Russia
 
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov
 
"By all means, we assist [the negotiations'] successful and timely completion and pursue agreements that would be firmly based on nuclear non-proliferation treaty principles and best practices of the International Atomic Energy Agency."
– March 2, 2015, according to the press
 
"At a meeting with [US Secretary of State John] Kerry and [Iranian Foreign Minister Javad] Zarif, we discussed a number of issues on the Iranian nuclear program...We noted serious progress reached at the talks of the P5+1 with Tehran."
 
"We discussed tasks we have to solve in order to achieve a result within the agreed time frames."
– March 2, 2015, according to the press
 

Germany

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier

"As far as Iran is concerned – and John Kerry made the point earlier – we used the opportunity last week in Paris to talk to our European partners, France and Great Britain, and to harmonize a common approach which hopefully will take us into the final round of negotiations in the search for a solution. For more than a decade, that conflict has been with us. I have been involved with – in this process in different positions, in different functions – as the foreign minister during my first stint; now again. Thus, I may be permitted to say that for the very first time in those 10 years, I’m under the impression that negotiations in the last year have been of a serious nature. Progress has been visible. But again, both of us are convinced that not all impediments have been cleared away, and thus everyone is called upon to continue to – Iran is called upon to continue to negotiate in a spirit – in a serious spirit. And we ask and urge Iran to show and express its readiness to enter into a compromise.
 
This is not a choice between a good or a bad deal. It’s very clear what we want to see. We want to be very clear in that what we want to see is that it is made impossible for Iran to acquire a nuclear bomb. It has to be made clear – unequivocally clear. It has to be something that can be reviewed, and we want to see that achieved on a long-term basis."
– March 11, 2015, in a joint press conference with John Kerry

 

Kerry on Disappearance of Robert Levinson

On March 9, Secretary of State John Kerry asked Iran’s government to work cooperatively to ensure the safe return of retired FBI agent Robert Levinson to the United States. Levinson disappeared from Iran’s Kish Island on March 9, 2007. He was reportedly investigating cigarette smuggling while working as a private investigator. Levinson’s family first received evidence that he was alive in November 2010. In the 54-second video, Levinson asked for a U.S. government response to his captors' demands, which have not been publicized. In the past, Iranian officials have said they are ready to cooperate with the United States on this case. The following is Kerry’s statement on the eighth anniversary of Levinson’s disappearance.

Eighth Anniversary of Disappearance of Robert Levinson
 
We ask the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to work cooperatively with us on the investigation into Robert Levinson’s disappearance so we can ensure his safe return.
 
Mr. Levinson went missing from Kish Island, Iran, eight years ago today.  He has spent more than 2,900 days separated from those who love him, and is one of the longest held U.S. citizens in history.  Year after year, the family has endured the pain of his absence. 
 
It is time for him to come home. 
 
We remain committed to the safe return of Mr. Levinson to his family and appreciate the support and assistance from our international partners.  We remain concerned about Mr. Levinson’s health given his age and the length of his disappearance.
 
Today, the FBI announced it has increased its reward for information that could lead to Mr. Levinson's safe return to up to $5 million from $1 million. 
 
We call on anyone with information about this case to contact the FBI.
 

Poll: Rouhani vs Ahmadinejad in 2017

A new poll by the U.S.-based Information and Public Opinion Solutions (IPOS) has found that President Hassan Rouhani (left) has the highest favorability rating of potential 2017 presidential candidates, followed by former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (right). Ahmadinejad, president from 2005 to 2013, still has a high rating among Iranians without university degrees and those living in rural areas. In a head-to-head race, 28 percent of respondents said they would vote for Rouhani while 24 percent picked Ahmadinejad.

But Rouhani’s edge increased to six percent when respondents were asked an open-ended question about who they would vote for. After Rouhani and Ahmadinejad, the following four individuals were the top picks of respondents:

• Former President Mohammad Khatami
 
• Expediency Council Chairman and former President Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani

• Mayor of Tehran Mohammad-Baqer Qalibaf
 
• Former Revolutionary Guards Commander Mohsen Rezaei
 
 
IPOS also found that Rouhani’s approval ratings have fallen in the last few months. In November 2014, 59 percent of Iranians polled approved of the president’s job performance, while 28 percent disapproved. In February 2015, his approval rating fell to 49 percent.
 
 
Rouhani’s rating did not vary in a statistically significant way when data was analyzed according to gender, education level and location of respondents. But Rouhani’s popularity did differ significantly across age groups. Rouhani polled the best among Iranians age 59 and above. Some 56 of older Iranians approved of his performance, at least five percent more than any other age group.
 
IPOS conducted the survey on February 14-15, which consisted of a random sample of 735 Iranians.
 
Click here for more information.

Photo credits: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad by Marcello Casal, Jr. (Agência Brasil: Gallery, Direct) [CC BY 3.0 br (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/br/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons and Hassan Rouhani via President.ir

Poll: Rouhani Approval Ratings Down

President Hassan Rouhani’s approval rating has fallen just below 50 percent, according to a new poll by the U.S.-based Information and Public Opinion Solutions (IPOS). The latest survey, conducted February 14-15, found that Rouhani’s approval has slipped to 49 percent from 59 percent in November 2014.

 

The following chart is further breakdown of the range of opinions towards Rouhani’s performance.The latest poll allowed respondents five choices while the November 2014 poll only gave respondents three choices — approval, neutral or no approval.
 
 
The president’s job approval rating did not vary in a statistically significant way according to gender, educational level and location of respondents. But Rouhani’s rating differs significantly across age groups. Rouhani polled the best among Iranians age 59 and above.
 
 
IPOS conducted the survey on February 14-15, which consisted of a random sample of 735 Iranians.
 
Click here for more information.
 

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