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The Iran Primer

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Khamenei on Talks: Iran Won’t Be Bullied

      On April 9, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned that Iran would not be bullied into stopping nuclear research in an address to the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran. “I agreed to the government's initiative to negotiate, just to break the hype” and dispel lies about Tehran's policy on nuclear weapons, he said as negotiations between Iran and the world’s six major powers concluded in Vienna, Austria.

      In a speech marking National Nuclear Technology Day, Khamenei urged Iranians not to think of sanctions as a price paid for nuclear technology. “Even if sanctions [on the nuclear program] did not exist, they [Americans] would make another excuse, as the Americans bring up the issue of human rights in today's negotiations,” he argued. Khamenei also accused U.S. officials of turning international sentiment against Iran using the nuclear issue “while they themselves know that not having nuclear weapons is the definite policy” of Iran. The following are excerpts from Khamenei’s speech posted on his website.
 
 Address to the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran
 
             The purpose of agreeing with these negotiations was to change the atmosphere of hostility that the camp of arrogance [the West] has created against Iran. These negotiations should continue, but everyone should know that despite this, the activities of the Islamic Republic in the area of nuclear research and development will not stop in any way. None of the nuclear achievements of the country can be given up. Besides, the relations of the International Atomic Energy Agency with Iran should be normal and ordinary relations.
 
             Another plot that global arrogance [the West] has tried very hard to implement against the Islamic Revolution is to influence the major policies of Iran and to shatter the willpower of the political management of the country. But the camp of arrogance has failed to do this until today and by Allah's favor, it will continue to fail in the future.
 
             The nuclear issue is an example of this, through which they tried to create an environment against the Islamic Republic and to spread lies. Their goal is to preserve the international environment against Iran with this excuse. This was why there was an agreement with the new plan of the administration for the nuclear issue. The purpose of this agreement was to remove the international environment against Iran, to seize the initiative from the other side and to reveal the truth for public opinion in the world. Of course, these negotiations do not mean that the Islamic Republic will compromise its scientific-nuclear movement.
 
             The nuclear achievements that have been made so far are, in fact, a message to the people of Iran that they can take the paths which lead to the lofty peaks of science and technology. Therefore, this scientific-nuclear movement should not be stopped in any way or slowed down.
 
             None of the nuclear achievements of the country can be given up. No one has the right to trade these achievements and no one will do this.
 
             At that time [a few years ago], a formula was devised for producing fuel. But the Americans created obstacles in the way of this process. This was contrary to what they had said to their friends in the regions and to a South American country - and these people believed what the Americans said. The Americans foolishly thought that they had put Iran in dire straits.
 
             At that time, I said that America does not want to solve this issue. Later on, everyone saw that when a nuclear agreement was in its final stages, the Americans did not allow it to be finalized.At that time, westerners began to ridicule our experts who had announced that they have the capability to produce fuel plates for the Tehran research reactor. But our youth accomplished this feat in less than the arranged time and as a result, the enemies were astonished.
 
             If some people think that the price of nuclear achievements has been sanctions and pressures, we should remind them that even before the nuclear excuse, sanctions and pressures existed against Iran.
 
             During the time when there was no nuclear excuse, a western court put Iran on a trial in absentia. Of course, in the present time, they do not have the courage to do this because of the national power of the country. Sanctions and pressures do not exist because of the nuclear issue. Rather, they are opposed to the independent identity - which originates from Islamic faith and belief - and the future prospects of the people of Iran and the Islamic Republic and to their refusal to be bullied by anyone.
 
             Therefore, if it is said that sanctions and pressures are the price that we have paid for our nuclear achievements, this is not true because even if sanctions did not exist, they would make another excuse, as the Americans bring up the issue of human rights in today's negotiations.
 
             Even if the issue of human rights is resolved, they will find another excuse. Therefore, the only way is to continue our path of progress with complete power and to stand up against their bullying.
 
             The negotiators of the country should not give in to any bullying of the other side. Besides, the relations of the International Atomic Energy Agency with Iran should be normal and ordinary relations.
 

Halfway: US Assesses Nuke Talks with Iran

      On April 9, a senior U.S. official assessed the status of diplomacy with Iran after nuclear talks concluded in Vienna.  “These sessions have been in-depth and the conversations have given us important additional insights into where the biggest and most challenging gaps will be as we move forward,” said the official. The two sides plan to start drafting the final agreement in May at the next round of talks. The following are excerpts from the press briefing.

 
Background Briefing by Senior U.S. Administration Official
 
April 9, 2014
 
SENIOR U.S. ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It’s amazing to think that only a few months ago, many of us were in Geneva in the freezing cold finalizing the Joint Plan of Action at 4 in the morning.  And today, we find ourselves at the halfway point in these comprehensive negotiations in a somewhat warmer and beautiful Vienna.  In the past two days, we have continued our substantive discussions about all of the issues that will have to be part of a comprehensive agreement – every single issue you can imagine.  These sessions have been in-depth and the conversations have given us important additional insights into where the biggest and most challenging gaps will be as we move forward.
 
At this point, we don’t know if we’ll be successful in bridging those gaps, but we are certainly committed, as everyone in the room is, to trying.  One thing to keep in mind as we reach this midway mark is that all sides have kept all of the commitments they made in the Joint Plan of Action.  That’s given all of us more confidence as we negotiate this even tougher comprehensive agreement. 
 
In that vein today, we’ve just concluded a meeting of the Joint Commission that was announced when we implemented the Joint Plan of Action.  Given it’s the halfway point, we thought it would be an appropriate time to check in on implementation progress, and as I said, the report out of that meeting which I just received is everyone acknowledged that everything was going well.  This meeting took place at the experts level, not at the political directors level.
 
The next step in this process is to begin actually drafting text, which we have all said would happen after this round.  This round and the last round was used to review all of the issues and understand each other’s positions at the beginning of this negotiation.  I would caution everyone from thinking that a final agreement is imminent or that it will be easy.  As we draft, I have no doubt this will be quite difficult at times.  And as we’ve always been clear and as we said explicitly when we were negotiating the Joint Plan of Action – and it is even more so for the comprehensive agreement – we will not rush into a bad deal.  We just won’t do it.  No deal – as Secretary Kerry has said many times, as the President of the United States has said, no deal is better than a bad deal.
 
So now, we’ll move forward to begin drafting actual language.  We’ll meet back here in Vienna at the political director level in May.  As always, our experts and political directors will be working in the meantime on all of the technical issues that are a part of these talks.  And we are all very focused on that special date, July 20th, because we believe that it should give us sufficient time to reach a comprehensive agreement if an agreement is indeed possible.
 
QUESTION:  When you said that every single issue you can imagine was discussed, did this include Iran’s ballistic missile program?  And also, when the – the Iranians have just now said that you’ve got – Foreign Minister Zarif said that the deal is 50 to 60 percent agreed.  And I know what you said in the conference call and what you said just now.  How would you respond to that?  And do you think that that’s an irrelevant comment?
 
SENIOR U.S. ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  In terms of your first question about ballistic missiles, the Joint Plan of Action covers, in one way or another, everything that needs to be in the comprehensive agreement, including resolution of concerns.  It also discusses the UN Security Council resolutions must be addressed as part of any comprehensive agreement, and I think that you are well aware that one of the UN Security Council resolutions speaks of concerns regarding ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons.  So when I say that all concerns have been discussed, all concerns have been discussed.
 
On your second point, I take seriously everything that Minister Zarif says.  My own view is that the only percentage that matters is the one when we either get a comprehensive agreement or we don’t.  In all of this negotiation, it is indeed like a Rubik’s cube.  All of the pieces have to fit together just so to reach a final agreement that will ensure that Iran will not obtain a nuclear weapon and that the international community has the assurance it needs that Iran’s program will be exclusively peaceful.
 
Similarly, the Joint Plan of Action says that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.  So one could agree to even 95 percent, and that last 5 percent might mean you’d never get to the agreement.  So the only thing that matters at the end of the day is to get to the agreement, and that’s what we’re trying to do.  And I think there are two principles that are important:  Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, and nothing is agreed until everyone agrees to it. 
 
QUESTION:  Would you say, though, that since the talks began in February that you have managed to narrow your decisions or narrow the gaps?
 
SENIOR U.S. ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  What I would say is we understand each other a great deal, better than we did when we began, in terms of each other’s positions on the various issues of concern.  It’s not that we didn’t know what each other’s positions were at the top lines, but a lot of this is quite technical, and the details matter enormously.  And so we all have a much, much deeper understanding of each other’s positions.  When one has that kind of understanding, you begin to see where there might be areas where one could reach agreement, you begin to see where the gaps are the largest, and where, in fact, you may indeed be close to an agreement.  But again, until everything is agreed, nothing is agreed.
 
QUESTION:  If you could characterize the Chinese envoy Wang’s comment about Russian participation as being, quote “utterly constructive,” and maybe give your side of that.  And then the broader question I’d like to pose is:  There’s a lot of signaling, so the Iranian deputy foreign minister confirmed that Iran and Russia are, in fact, in trade talks about broadening trade, something that Mr. Kerry referred to specifically in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday.  He also said that they’re not close to signing a deal.  But it’s obvious that there are contingency plans being formulated in the event of a failure of this process.  My question to you is:  Is there a danger that the signals from the contingency planning overcome the positive signals that you’re trying to project through the actual process of dialogue that’s going through July? 
 
SENIOR U.S. ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  What I would say is that my [Russian colleagues] played the constructive, focused role that they usually do.  And we have – [Sergei Ryabkov] has worked as part of the P5+1 all through the Joint Plan of Action and now through the comprehensive agreement.  And he and his team are very useful and important participants in this process.  In terms of the trade talks that Iran and Russia may be having, we have been very direct to both parties that should they bring this day to closure and engage in activity that is sanctionable under our sanctions, we will take appropriate action.  And we’ve urged both parties not to move forward, to preserve the negotiating process.
 
Now, events happen in the world.  You may have noticed that.  And we cannot control them all.  You may have noticed that as well.  And so we have to deal with what happens in the world in general.  You all have asked time and again has Ukraine made a difference, which was the reason you asked – or someone asked Mr. Wang about Russia’s participation.  So we take these issues on board and we all stay focused on what we’re trying to do here, but we will all have to take whatever appropriate action we need to take under the laws of our lands.
 
QUESTION:  Can you – I have several short questions for you.  First of all, the timing for the next round was announced on May the 13th, but there was no end date given.  I mean, could they go on for five days, a week?  Is there any sense of that?  And secondly, can you give any indication of what was discussed in the Joint Commission, issues that came up?  And did you discuss the UN ambassador pick with (inaudible) yesterday?  Can you rule out foreign ministers heading up to the next round.
 
SENIOR U.S. ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Every time we come to any of these rounds, even when we have announced it’s going to be two days or three days, we call come with the presumption we will stay for as long as we need to stay.  Obviously, as one begins to get into drafting, it is even more possible that you’ll stay longer than you planned to stay, so I assume that is why neither the – Lady Ashton – the High Representative of the European Union – nor Minister Zarif and their teams gave an end date.  We were all planning for the week to be here and we’ll do whatever is necessary.
 
I think for all of us involved in this between now and July 20th, we understand that there is no higher priority.  The stakes here are quite high for all the reasons you all well know, because we are trying to ensure that Iran does not get a nuclear weapon and that their program is exclusively peaceful.  And so everyone in the room has explicitly said they are ready to do whatever they need to do and change their schedules and their life to do what is necessary.
 
On the Joint Commission, it just concluded, but the agenda for that Joint Commission was really just to check in with each other – that’s why it’s at the expert level – have we kept all of our commitments on sanctions relief and other things that we needed to do, and is Iran keeping its commitments?  I would note that secretary – Director General Amano made comments I saw in the press today affirming yet again that Iran has kept all of its commitments on their set of obligations.  So it was just a check-in.  It wasn’t a very long meeting, to tell you the truth, but a useful one, a very useful one.
 
In terms of the UN ambassador pick, what I would say is that you all have heard the comments from Jay Carney from the White House podium that we believe that this candidate, this possible nominee, is not viable from a U.S. perspective, and we have conveyed that directly to the Iranians through the channels that we have available to us.  And I’m going to leave it there on that.  And as far as the foreign ministers flying in, that’s not planned.
 
QUESTION:  Assuming that any oil deal with Russia goes through, I think what you’re saying is that Russia could face potential sanctions.  That would probably impact very, very hard on the talks, possibly resulting in less of the Russian cooperation that you’re talking about.  But you are saying that the United States is going to take this step even if that happens, (inaudible).
 
SENIOR U.S. ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I think the Secretary has been very clear about it, I’ve been very clear about it, others in our government have been very clear about it, that anyone who takes sanctionable action faces the potential for sanctions. But let me add one thing:  As you all have said yourselves, they are in talks.  Nothing is consummated, nothing is executed, nothing is done.  I think that both Iran and Russia understand the stakes here.  I expect and suspect that they understand that the priority in the first instance is to try to reach a comprehensive agreement if we can reach one.
 
QUESTION:  On the issue of the money that was released to the Iranians, the Iranians are having trouble getting their hands on it.  Did this issue come up either in the talks or in your bilateral?  How far are we into this?  Is this close to a resolution?  You said the two sides are sticking to their commitments under the Geneva agreement.  Is this causing trouble within that context?  Any information on that, I will be grateful.  And secondly, on your bilateral, anything of interest?
 
SENIOR U.S. ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  On whether Iran has access to the repatriated funds that were part of our obligation under the Joint Plan of Action, we and the European Union on all of the sanctions-related obligations have done everything that we committed to doing.  And I think if you ask the Iranians, they would say that we have complied with our obligations under the Joint Plan of Action. 
 
And I know there have been stories written, there have been all kinds of issues.  All of these things are always complicated to make happen, but we have made them happen.  And so I think you will find – and part of the Joint Commission today was to check in on all of those issues.  All the appropriate colleagues were there on both sides, and the report I just got out right before I walked in here is that everybody was grateful for the work that had been done on both sides and that everyone had complied with their obligations. The – everything that we were supposed to do and the tranches we were supposed to do it has been done.
 
As term – in terms of the bilateral, our bilateral was – as I’ve said to you now, it’s now normal.  We met for about an hour and a half.  We only talk about two things in the bilateral.  One is nuclear negotiation.  We make sure that Iran understands our perspective on all of the issues under discussion, and they’re able to tell us directly their views about our views.  And the other thing we discuss and do so quite decidedly and in a focused way is our American citizens about which we are concerned – Mr. Hekmati, Pastor Abedini, and Robert Levinson – all of whom deserve to be home with their families.
 
 
QUESTION:  Iranians have tweeted yesterday evening that Arak does not need to be converted to a light-water reactor.  Can you please confirm about the decision? And my second question is:  When you start drafting, you have to (inaudible) from all of the things that you have discussed till now.  And is this going to work like a block by block, or can we expect everything being done is the next meeting, or are you going to say that, okay, let’s draft this part in what way and then come back?  How will that (inaudible) work?
 
SENIOR U.S. ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  So I’m not going to get into the discussion of the mechanics of how we’re going to negotiate, because that’s also a subject of strategy in negotiations and that’s also a subject of the confidentiality of the negotiations in terms of how we’re going got proceed.  Because then your next question will be, “Well, if you’re going to block by block, what will be the first issues you will discuss?”  And I’m not going to get into that, because as I said to all of you, this is a negotiation with very high stakes, very crucial.  We want to keep the details of the negotiation inside the room.  And that answers your first question as well in the sense that all kinds of public comments are made.  That usually happens in negotiations.  They are meant to try to frame the negotiation.  But the only thing that matters is what happens in the room, what gets agreed to among the parties in the room, and whether an agreement at the end of the day can be reached. 
 
QUESTION:  Are you going to talk to them about the pace of this?  Would you prefer that the next meeting to be sooner?
 
SENIOR U.S. ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  So you assume with that question that between now and when we come back here nothing is going on, and I can assure you that every single day work is being done on this negotiation.  That happens in a variety of ways within capitals, among and between capitals, through our experts having meetings among themselves and with Iranian experts.  There is not a day in my life now where I’m not spending at least some of my time, and I’m responsible for the whole world, but spending some of my time virtually every single day on this.  And as we get further into this, it will be – it will take up most of my time and ultimately probably all of it.
 
QUESTION: Do you expect this to be finished here in Vienna, if it is finished at all, of course?  Or are you going to go back to Geneva for a kind of signing ceremony? 
 
SENIOR U.S. ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  The reason that we’re in Vienna is because we wanted, when we started the comprehensive agreement, to sort of end a chapter and begin a new one, so we switched cities.  But from the beginning, the Iranians wanted to have a meeting in a city where there were UN facilities.  So in fact, this whole process is out of a mandate from the UN Security Council, so it is a UN-based mandate.  And so that’s why we’re in Vienna, because the UN is here present in Vienna as well.
 
So we expect we will continue to do our negotiations here in Vienna.  I suppose someone could suggest that would change, but right now that’s my expectation.  And I want to thank you and your city for hosting us so well.  We are very well taken care of here.  People help us get through traffic.  The food is delicious when I get to leave the hotel and have some.  Most of our meals we all eat together in the hotel where we’re having the negotiation, but tonight I’m going to get to go out sometime very late tonight and try some of your cuisine, so I thank you very much.
 
QUESTION:  Could you just specify one sort of example of gaps that you managed to bridge?  Can you tell us what percentage of the gaps you so far at the beginning to bridge? 
 
SENIOR U.S. ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I’m not going to identify where we bridge things, where there are gaps, where we see possibilities of agreement, where we see challenges, because it won’t help the negotiation.  And as much as I care about the press and feel a responsibility to let people know what’s going on, I feel a greater responsibility to make sure that the negotiation stays inside the room. 
 
And as for percentages, as I said earlier, it – at the end of the day what matters is whether we get to an agreement or not get to an agreement.  And we could agree on 95 percent of the things, and that last 5 percent, which will probably be the hardest set of issues or issue, means we do or don’t get an agreement.
 
QUESTION:  Well, how far are you from the 95 percent?
 
SENIOR U.S. ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I don’t think we can say.  We used the first round of the comprehensive agreement to lay out a framework for negotiating.  Then the second and third rounds were to go into great detail on each of the issues of concern, to set up an understanding to get to drafting.  So we’re now finished those two rounds.  We have covered every issue of concern both here in Vienna and through experts’ groups meetings that have taken place in between, and political director’s consultations which have taken place in between, and now we are set to start drafting.  And quite frankly, until you get down to it, and you get down to the details, we don’t know whether we’ll be able to get to the end of this or not.  I hope we do, but I don’t know.
 
QUESTION: Minister Wang came out and said that this round of negotiations has gained considerable momentum. Would you agree with that assessment?
 
SENIOR U.S. ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: What I would say is that all of these rounds have been productive, have been constructive, have been thoughtful, have been professional. But what I would say is that now we have to get down to it. And then we will know whether we’re headed in a direction where we can get to a comprehensive agreement or not. We all want to. We all believe we can. But none of us know until we really get to the drafting and the text and the detail whether it’s possible or not. 
 
QUESTION:  I have question to your bilateral meetings.  Did the Iranians acknowledge the presence of all three American citizens in Iran?  And are they any closer to being released?
 
SENIOR U.S. ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I’m not going to get into the details of our conversation, and I do that both for the protection of those three Americans and for the privacy consideration of their families.  But what I can say is that we have important conversations about all three and try to do whatever I can to get them closer and ultimately bring them home.  I meet with the families or people in the Department meet with the families, and it’s always terribly difficult.  The Levinson family hasn’t seen Robert Levinson for seven years.  Any of you – you all have family members, and just imagine what it’d be like if you hadn’t seen them for seven years and didn’t know where they were.
 
QUESTION:   The last time there were four topics that were specified and we’re extracting this from.  This time, this thing, you have said all issues have been discussed, which presumably means that you have to return to those four issues that were discussed the last time.  Is that the case, and if so, why was there any need to return to them?
 
SENIOR U.S. ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  As I said, we were using these two rounds to make sure we covered all the issues.  The issues that we did last time, we sent our experts away to do some work products.  And so we wanted to get the results of those to try to move forward a little bit more if we could.  Again, these are very technical discussions, and I’ve learned an awful lot about nuclear energy and nuclear weapons, but I’m not a technical expert.  So we need to rely on them to do a lot of work and bring it back to the political level.  And we also knew that since we were going to move to drafting after this that we wanted to have one last review of every issue before we left here. 
 
QUESTION:  How many issues are there?  I mean, how many categories?  As Andrei said, the last time four issues were mentioned, (inaudible).  (Inaudible) issues separated by topics?
 
SENIOR U.S. ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  George, there’s a totality of issues, but each one of the issues has a myriad of subsets to it.  So I couldn’t give you a count.  And all of the issues interact with each other.  And as I’ve said before, some – on some issues, if you can move forward, you may open up trade space on another issue.  When we’ve talked about enrichment before, that has many, many pieces to it – from stockpiles to facilities to enrichment levels to centrifuge production.  I mean, it’s just a myriad of subsets.  And that’s true of every issue.  So it’s quite impossible to sort of give you a count because it also requires you to categorize at what conceptual level you’re having the discussion. 
 
What I can say is that we laid out in the first negotiating round all of the issues of concern to both parties, to both sides, and we have discussed them all.  And they will all have to be addressed in some way.
.
 
QUESTION:  What do you think the positions?  Is it more understanding or more accepting or more incentives or threatening, or what?  Because it looks like still the Iranians are talking about redlines.
 
SENIOR U.S. ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  As I said, what I care about most, what we all care about most, is what’s happening in the room, that all kinds of things will be said in public, and we understand that.  We listen to it.  It’s very important information.  But what matters is what happens in the room.  And it’s about all of the things you say – not threatening so much.  It’s a very professional discussion.  But it is, of course, understanding each other better.  It is seeing if there are some technical solutions to problems of concern, whether in fact there are incentives, disincentives perhaps as well, but not in the manner in which you were suggesting.
 
I think the largest disincentive for everyone is if we can’t reach an agreement, then diplomacy has not succeeded.  And we all appreciate that the best way to solve this problem is through diplomacy. 
 
QUESTION:  She’s always here.  Possible military dimensions – is it enough for the IAEA to weigh in and determine those questions have been answered within that body, or does evidence that it has been cleared also need to convince the P5+1, the UN Security Council?  I mean, where does the criteria, I guess, fit in?
 
SENIOR U.S. ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Well, I’m not going to speak to specific criteria because that goes to where we are in the negotiation.  What I can say to you is a couple of things that we’ve been very clear about.  One, possible military dimensions is a central responsibility of what the IAEA is doing under its responsibilities.  We want to support the IAEA and we want to encourage Iran to do everything they can to make substantive progress in the work they’re doing with the IAEA.  And secondly, we have said that we will not be able to get to a comprehensive agreement without those issues being addressed. 
 

Zarif and Ashton on April Nuclear Talks

      On April 9, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and E.U. foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton reported that they had “substantive and detailed discussions” on a final nuclear agreement. “A lot of intensive work will be required to overcome the differences which naturally still exist at this stage in the process,” the two negotiators noted in their joint statement. A senior U.S. official said the talks gave its negotiators "additional insights into where the biggest and most challenging gaps will be." The next round of talks between Iran and the so-called P5+1 powers -- Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States -- is planned for May 13, 2014.

            In a separate meeting in Oslo, U.N. nuclear watchdog chief Yukiya Amano said that Tehran is cooperating with nuclear inspectors. The following are excerpted remarks by top leaders on the latest round of Vienna talks and implementation of the interim nuclear deal.

 
Joint statement by EU High Representative Catherine Ashton and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif
  
Minister Zarif and I, together with the Political Directors of China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States, just finished a third round of talks in our ongoing diplomatic effort to seek a Comprehensive Agreement on the Iranian nuclear issue as envisaged in the Joint Plan of Action.
 
We would again like to thank the Austrian Foreign Minister and his staff as well as the United Nations for their support in hosting these negotiations in Vienna.
 
Following our meetings last month, and based on the framework for the negotiations established in February, we have now held substantive and detailed discussions covering all the issues which will need to be part of a Comprehensive Agreement.
 
A lot of intensive work will be required to overcome the differences which naturally still exist at this stage in the process. 
 
We will now move to the next phase in the negotiations in which we will aim to bridge the gaps in all the key areas and work on the concrete elements of a possible Comprehensive Agreement.  
 
Our next meeting will be in Vienna from 13 May 2014.
 
Background Briefing by Senior U.S. Administration Official
 
April 9, 2014
 
SENIOR U.S. ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: In the past two days, we have continued our substantive discussions about all of the issues that will have to be part of a comprehensive agreement – every single issue you can imagine.  These sessions have been in-depth and the conversations have given us important additional insights into where the biggest and most challenging gaps will be as we move forward.
 
At this point, we don’t know if we’ll be successful in bridging those gaps, but we are certainly committed, as everyone in the room is, to trying.  One thing to keep in mind as we reach this midway mark is that all sides have kept all of the commitments they made in the Joint Plan of Action.  That’s given all of us more confidence as we negotiate this even tougher comprehensive agreement. 
  
The next step in this process is to begin actually drafting text, which we have all said would happen after this round.  This round and the last round was used to review all of the issues and understand each other’s positions at the beginning of this negotiation.  I would caution everyone from thinking that a final agreement is imminent or that it will be easy.  As we draft, I have no doubt this will be quite difficult at times.  And as we’ve always been clear and as we said explicitly when we were negotiating the Joint Plan of Action – and it is even more so for the comprehensive agreement – we will not rush into a bad deal.  We just won’t do it.  No deal – as Secretary Kerry has said many times, as the President of the United States has said, no deal is better than a bad deal.
 
So now, we’ll move forward to begin drafting actual language.  We’ll meet back here in Vienna at the political director level in May.  As always, our experts and political directors will be working in the meantime on all of the technical issues that are a part of these talks.  And we are all very focused on that special date, July 20th, because we believe that it should give us sufficient time to reach a comprehensive agreement if an agreement is indeed possible.
  
QUESTION:  On the issue of the money that was released to the Iranians, the Iranians are having trouble getting their hands on it.  Did this issue come up either in the talks or in your bilateral?  How far are we into this?  Is this close to a resolution?  You said the two sides are sticking to their commitments under the Geneva agreement.  Is this causing trouble within that context?  Any information on that, I will be grateful.  And secondly, on your bilateral, anything of interest?
 
SENIOR U.S. ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  On whether Iran has access to the repatriated funds that were part of our obligation under the Joint Plan of Action, we and the European Union on all of the sanctions-related obligations have done everything that we committed to doing.  And I think if you ask the Iranians, they would say that we have complied with our obligations under the Joint Plan of Action. 
 
And I know there have been stories written, there have been all kinds of issues.  All of these things are always complicated to make happen, but we have made them happen.  And so I think you will find – and part of the Joint Commission today was to check in on all of those issues.  All the appropriate colleagues were there on both sides, and the report I just got out right before I walked in here is that everybody was grateful for the work that had been done on both sides and that everyone had complied with their obligations. The – everything that we were supposed to do and the tranches we were supposed to do it has been done.
 
As term – in terms of the bilateral, our bilateral was – as I’ve said to you now, it’s now normal.  We met for about an hour and a half.  We only talk about two things in the bilateral.  One is nuclear negotiation.  We make sure that Iran understands our perspective on all of the issues under discussion, and they’re able to tell us directly their views about our views.  And the other thing we discuss and do so quite decidedly and in a focused way is our American citizens about which we are concerned – Mr. Hekmati, Pastor Abedini, and Robert Levinson – all of whom deserve to be home with their families.
    
QUESTION:  [China’s] Minister Wang came out and said that this round of negotiations has gained considerable momentum.  Would you agree with that assessment?
 
SENIOR U.S. ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  What I would say is that all of these rounds have been productive, have been constructive, have been thoughtful, have been professional.  But what I would say is that now we have to get down to it.  And then we will know whether we’re headed in a direction where we can get to a comprehensive agreement or not.  We all want to.  We all believe we can.  But none of us know until we really get to the drafting and the text and the detail whether it’s possible or not. 
 
Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Seyyed Abbas Araqchi
 

 

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif

 

International Atomic Energy Agency Director Genearl Yukiya Amano
 
We are working on it [implementing the interim nuclear deal] and they [Iranians] are cooperative.
 
Our people in the safeguards department are having close contact with them. I can tell you, these measures are being implemented as planned.
 
The problem of Iran is assuring that declared activities and material are staying in peaceful purpose.
 
 

 

Kerry: Talks Aim to Extend Breakout Window

            On April 8, Secretary of State John Kerry testified on diplomatic efforts to solve the Iranian nuclear dispute at a budget hearing before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. Kerry said he remains “agnostic” over whether the world’s six major powers and Iran can agree on a final deal before the July 20 deadline. Kerry noted that Tehran could produce enough fissile material to produce a nuclear bomb in about two months. When asked if U.S. negotiators were aiming for a breakout window of a year, Kerry replied, “So six months to 12 months is - I'm not saying that's what we'd settle for, but even that is significantly more.” The following are excerpts from Kerry’s remarks at the Foreign Policy Budget Hearing.

 

Secretary Kerry’s Opening Remarks: 

From day one this Administration has made it a foreign policy goal to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. 
 
To achieve this goal we have been clear that we will use all the elements of our national power, including direct negotiations with Iran, the very kind that we are engaged in as I speak.  We are approaching these talks seriously and with our eyes wide open.  That’s why as we negotiate we continue to enforce sanctions on Iran not affected by the Joint Plan of Action – not just incidentally over its nuclear activities, but also because of its support for terrorism.  And we will press the case on human rights and its record wherever we can.  And we will continue to urge Iran to release our American citizens – Amir Hekmati, Saeed Abedini – and we will work to help find Robert Levinson.  All three should be home with their families, and that is consistently raised by us with any Iranian official when we engage. 
 
Secretary Kerry’s Responses to Questions:
 
I think it's public knowledge today that we're operating with a time period for a so-called breakout of about two months. That's been in the public domain.
 
So six months to 12 months is [a longer breakout window]- I'm not saying that's what we'd settle for, but even that is significantly more.
 
If they're [Iranians] overtly breaking out and breaking an agreement and starting to enrich and pursue it, they've made huge consequential decisions. And the greater likelihood is we are going to respond immediately.

 

Dust Storms Cloud Iran’s Future

David Michel

            Iran is, literally, being blown away. Stifling dust storms frequently now envelope both big cities and rural towns across much of Iran, the world’s 17th largest country. They threaten to disrupt crucial parts of public and economic life, education, commerce, public health, agriculture, trade and transportation. Swirling clouds – of windblown silt, soil, and sediment—already affected 23 of Iran’s 31 provinces in 2013, according to Vice President Masoumeh Ebtekar, head of the country’s Environmental Protection Organization. 
 
     Iran’s massive dust storms could also spill well across Iran’s borders, generating serious regional consequences and tensions. Dust clouds veiled Tehran for 117 days of the Iranian year which ran from March 2012-March 2013. And blinding sand storms blocked roads across the eastern province of Sistan and Baluchistan last summer, isolating nearly 60 towns and villages.   
 
     Dust storms regularly arise in arid and semi-arid regions around the world.  Indeed, the Islamic Republic sits in the center of a Northern Hemisphere “dust belt” stretching from the west coast of North Africa, through the Middle East, and across South and Central Asia to China. Winds gusting over the open, level landscape of Iran’s dry plateaus, deserts, and salt flats readily pick up loose soil and sand, lifting bits of dirt and grit into the atmosphere and carrying it tens, hundreds, or even thousands of miles away.  
 
           Nationwide, erosion annually strips thousands of tons of surface soil and sediment from every square mile of the country. The resulting dust storms can close roadways, rail lines, and airports; choke crops; clog machinery; and cloak cities in debilitating air pollution, endangering public health.
 
            Yet nature is not the only culprit stirring up the dust clouds that blot the country’s horizons. Iran’s own water and land management practices have worsened environmental conditions that exacerbate dust storms. So too, Iran’s neighbors have made equally detrimental policy choices, with damaging regional repercussions. And lurking behind these national and international pressures, global climate change may further increase drought and desertification across Iran and southwest Asia, potentially intensifying future dust and sand storms.    
 
Darkness at Noon
 
     With 90 percent of its territory classified as arid or semi-arid, Iran’s climate and topography render it naturally susceptible to dust storms. According to Iran’s National Action Programme to Combat Desertification and Mitigate the Effect of Drought, over 77,000 square miles of the country across 19 provinces are subject to significant wind erosion. The Islamic Republic typically suffers more than 500 dust storms annually, mainly in the spring and summer months as temperatures mount and rainfall wanes. In recent decades, the southwestern provinces have experienced anywhere from 60 to 130 distinct dust “events” every year. 
 
           In eastern Sistan region, the town of Zabol can experience up to 80 dust storms in a year. The dry gusts, known to the locals as the “120 day wind” because they last throughout the summer, produce gales up to 75 miles per hour. Storms in the Sistan Basin can grow so intense they have been measured to contain more than 250 kilograms of dust per cubic meter of air. (For a roughly equivalent measure of density on a more familiar scale, imagine six pounds of dust whirling around the space inside a standard men’s shoebox.)
 
           These thick dust storms can wreak serious damage. Billowing dust can reduce visibility to 100 yards or less, shutting down air and road traffic. Shops and schools close. Searing, sand-bearing winds blow down power lines. Grit-filled machines grind to a halt. Drifting dust buries crops and farmland, suffocates livestock, and fills wells and irrigation canals. One analysis of the area around Zabol estimated that the lost economic activity and physical damages from dust storms cost the city $100 million between 2000 and 2005. 
 
           Far more troublingly, Iran’s dust storms also impose serious public health risks. If inhaled, fine dust particles can penetrate deep into the lungs. They can cause infections, respiratory difficulties, and cardiovascular problems. The World Health Organization (WHO) has formulated specific guidelines about exposure to concentrations of airborne dust, soot, or other tiny pollutants, called “particulate matter,” that can threaten human health. 
 
      Studies of several Iranian cities have found particulate pollution routinely shooting far above these guidelines during dust storms. In the southwest city of Ahvaz, dust storms during the summer of 2010 increased daily pollution levels to between 13 and 16 times the WHO standards, causing an estimated 1,131 deaths and more than 8,100 hospital visits. An analysis of hospitals in Kermanshah province in western Iran calculated that every 10 percent rise in dust concentrations swelled the number of cardiac patients by 10 percent, respiratory patients by 5 percent, and deaths from heart disease by 3 percent.   
 
Spreading Dust Bowls
 
            Iran’s dust storms appear to be growing more frequent and severe. Compared to the past 30 years, the number of dust storms striking the Islamic Republic jumped markedly between 2000 and 2009, soaring by as much as 70 to 175 percent in the western provinces. Dust storms also increasingly occur in areas not as vulnerable as in the past. They have more than doubled in parts of the northeast – around Sabzevar – and in the northwestern provinces, especially East Azerbaijan, West Azerbaijan, and Kurdistan.
 
            These increases parallel regional climate changes. Over the past half century, much of Iran has become increasingly arid. Average temperatures have warmed up to nine degrees (five degrees Celsius) since 1960, while annual rainfall has dropped across much of the country, according to Iran’s Second National Communication to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. 
 
            Further global warming could exacerbate these trends. Iranian studies have projected that average temperatures could climb almost two degrees (about one degree Celsius) by 2039, while precipitation across the country could drop by 9 percent. A hotter, more arid climate would further dry the soil, creating more loose dust and sand to be swept away by the wind.
 
Reaping the Whirlwind
 
            Climate pressures, though, are by no means the only factors driving Iran’s dust storms. Particular Iranian agricultural, land, and water management policies substantially aggravate the environmental stresses that worsen dust conditions. For example, over-grazing livestock are dramatically degrading much of the countryside, according to Iran’s Forestry, Rangelands, and Watershed Management Organization. Iran is now raising more than twice as many head of livestock as the land can sustainably support. Too many livestock grazing the same pastures have denuded the land of the grasses and other vegetation that hold the soil in place. Some 166,000 square miles of the nation’s rangelands are now in poor condition, and growing expanses of barren ground are in turn exposed to dust-generating winds.
 
      Another problem is that Iran has cut down more than 20 percent of its forest cover since the 1950s to clear more land for farming and for burgeoning cities. Deforestation has removed trees that offer natural wind breaks to blunt the dust storms’ blasts.
 
      Government policies have contributed to Iran’s dust crises. Water management choices in the country’s northwest have transformed Lake Urmia, the great salt lake straddling the provinces of East and West Azerbaijan, into a nascent dust emissions hotspot. Dams and diversions on the rivers feeding Lake Urmia –to provide water for irrigation, industry, and other uses – have significantly diminished the flows entering the lake downstream. Reduced river flows, combined with recurrent drought in the region, have drastically lowered the lake’s water levels.
 
 
       In the past two decades, Lake Urmia, once the largest in the Middle East, has lost 60 percent of its surface area, shrinking from around 2,300 square miles in the 1990s to about 890 square miles today. As a result, winds that used to ripple the lake’s shallow saltwaters now blow over dry land, carrying off clouds of salt-loaded silt from the desiccated lakebed. These so-called “white” or “saline” dust storms are particularly damaging to surrounding agricultural areas because the windblown salt coats crops, harming their growth, and contaminates soils, decreasing their productivity.
 
            Similar strains weigh on the marshes and salt lakes – called Hamouns – of the Sistan Basin on the eastern border with Afghanistan. Water levels in the shallow Hamoun system, nourished by the Helmand and other smaller rivers coming in from Afghanistan, fluctuate naturally, depending on regional precipitation and snowmelt in the basin. But here too, water withdrawals for irrigation and the development of Iran’s Chah Nimeh reservoir, together with prolonged drought, have cut water flows into the Hamouns. Water levels in the lakes have plunged, uncovering growing patches of dry lakebed. As a result, satellite observations and data on the ground show that dust storms in the area are increasing as the Hamouns dry up.
 
Dust Diplomacy
 
       Lake Urmia and the Sistan Basin highlight the regional nature and international implications of Iran’s dust challenge. Though particular storms may originate in Iran, the repercussions reach the neighbors as well. The prevailing winds sweeping over Lake Urmia, for instance, can loft dust thousands of feet into the air and carry it northward 150 miles or more into Turkey, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. Likewise, the Sistan Basin represents a major dust source for all of southwest Asia, and storms starting in the Hamouns can spread salt-laden sediment across Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. 
 
            Iran is also vulnerable to dust storms born beyond its borders. By tracking satellite images and analyzing the mineral composition of windblown dust particles, scientists can determine where dust storms begin. Their studies indicate that Iraq, Syria, and Saudi Arabia are significant sources of dust storms affecting Iran. Even as far from the frontier as Tehran, 90 percent of the dust shrouding the capital during the dust storms of 2009-2010 originated in the deserts of Iraq and Syria, according to a study by experts at Iran’s Sharif University of Technology.
 
            Dust storms bind Iran together with its neighbors in a reciprocal relationship. Iran’s land and water policies fuel dust storms that blow across borders, especially Iraq and Afghanistan. Iran has dammed and diverted waters from numerous streams and tributaries that run from its territory into the Tigris-Euphrates, including the Alwand, Karun, and Sirwan rivers that flow into Iraq. And falling water levels in the Hamouns – and their effects on Sistan dust storms – depend on water flows from the Helmand River, which Iran and Afghanistan share.
 
      So too, land and water use decisions by the neighboring countries generate dust storms that can blow into Iran. Many Iranian experts worry that growing water demands and new dams and diversions by Iraq, Syria, and especially Turkey may dry out portions of the Tigris-Euphrates Basin, increasing desertification and promoting dust storms that could push deep into Iran. 
 
      Iran and its neighbors recognize their interdependence and have agreed to cooperate in recent years. In 2009, Iraq and Iran inked an accord under which Iraq was to dampen the dust threat by pouring either a biological or an oil-based mulch onto dust sources in the desert. In 2011, they signed a deal to jointly fund a $1.2 billion project to cover 3,860 square miles of Iraqi desert with mulch to stabilize the sand. Yet little has come of these agreements and the Iraq-Iran deal has never been fulfilled. In 2010, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Qatar, and Turkey concluded an agreement in Tehran to exchange information, technology, and experience for reducing dust storms. But that, too, is only a beginning.
 
            Iran’s leadership is clearly thinking about environmental issues. On March 5th, 2014, National Tree Planting Day, Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, urged all parts of the government, and all Iranians, to cooperate to protect the environment and resolve the dust storm challenge. And on March 29, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif tweeted a reminder for people to turn off their lights for “Earth Hour” 2014.
 
David Michel is director of the Environmental Security Program at the Stimson Center, a non-partisan think tank in Washington D.C.
 
Photo credit: Tehran Pollution by Matthias Blume [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons, Zayandeh River by Adam Jones [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons, Lake Urmia by NASA via Flickr, Khamenei.ir
 

 

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