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Part II: Opposition to a Deal - Israel

Garrett Nada

            Israel is the most skeptical country about diplomacy to ensure Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has generally dismissed Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s diplomatic overtures to the outside world as a deceptive “charm offensive.” In his U.N. address, Netanyahu called Rouhani a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” and then went on a media blitz to warn world leaders against trusting the new president’s more conciliatory tone.

      Israel and Iran differ on a key issue: Iran insists that it retain the right to enrich uranium, a process for its peaceful nuclear energy program. But Israel insists that it end all enrichment because the fuel cycle could also be used to eventually develop a nuclear bomb.
      On November 8, Netanyahu warned against an interim agreement being discussed by world’s six major powers and Iran in Geneva. The agreement reportedly would relax some financial sanctions in return for Iran halting its nuclear program. “Iran is not required to take apart even one centrifuge,” Netanyahu said. “It’s the deal of a century for Iran; it’s a very dangerous and bad deal for peace and the international community."
           After the Geneva talks ended, Israel stepped up its campaign against what it considered premature sanctions relief for Iran. Economy Minister Naftali Bennett said that he would use a previously scheduled visit to Washington to warn Congress about the dangers of an interim deal. “Before the talks resume [on November 20], we will lobby dozens of members of the U.S. Congress to whom I will personally explain during a visit beginning on Tuesday that Israel's security is in jeopardy,” he said on November 10.
      In an English-language press conference, Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz claimed that the United States, China, Britain, France, Germany, and Russia were considering “significant relief for the Iranians.” He estimated that U.S. and E.U. sanctions had cost Iran some $100 billion annually and that the proposed sanctions relief package could be worth up to $40 billion— or 40 percent of the overall impact. But State Department Spokesperson Jennifer Psaki dismissed the estimate as “inaccurate, exaggerated, and not based on reality” in a briefing on November 13.Two days later, Netanyahu's office released the above graphic warning against an interim deal ahead of the third round of talks since Rouhani took office.
            Israel is also concerned that a diplomatic deal between Iran and the world’s six major powers—the United States, Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia—would allow Iran to reemerge as a regional powerhouse.
            Israel’s opposition to a deal are based on Iran’s potential to:
            • Improve its military capabilities
            • Ramp up support for extremist groups
            • Improve ties with the United States
            • Gain international legitimacy
 
The Military Balance
            Israel is concerned that Iran might use the knowledge and technology used for building a nuclear weapon as leverage to expand its sphere of influence. As an undeclared nuclear power, Israel would still have the military edge. It is widely reported to have at least 80 nuclear warheads, with materiel to make up between 155 to 190 more. And unlike the Gulf sheikhdoms, Israel is hundreds of miles from Iran. So it is not primarily worried about potential land or sea battles in the conventional sense. Jerusalem is mainly focused on how Iran could threaten it from a distance, particularly via long-range missiles, or by increasing its influence with Israel’s neighbors.
            Iran “continues to develop missiles of various ranges, including intercontinental ballistic missiles designed to carry nuclear warheads. These missiles pose a threat to the Middle East, Europe, the United States and other countries,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned in his U.N. address on Oct. 1, 2013.
 
      The Islamic Republic has the largest and most diverse arsenal of long-range rockets and ballistic missiles in the Middle East. Tehran already possesses missiles, such as the Shahab-3 and Ghadr-1, that are theoretically capable of hitting Israel. They are, however, also highly inaccurate. Israel is concerned that Tehran is capable of producing longer range missiles. In an unprecedented display in September, Tehran paraded 30 missiles with a range of 1,200 miles to mark the anniversary of Iraq’s 1980 invasion.
      For now, Israel’s missiles are much more advanced and accurate. The Jericho II, with its estimated 900-mile range, could hit Tehran. In July 2013, Israel reportedly tested a new generation missile that could be the Jericho III. It has a range of between 3,100 miles and 6,800 miles, capable of hitting all corners of Iran. Israel may still worry that an emboldened Iran could deliver missiles to proxies closer to Israel’s borders, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon.
 
Side Effects of a Deal
            Israel and Iran were the two main pillars of U.S. policy in the Middle East until the 1979 revolution. Since then, Israel and the United States have had a shared interest in containing Iran. They reportedly worked together on cyber warfare to slow or disrupt Iran’s nuclear program. The Stuxnet worm reportedly attacked Iran’s centrifuges in late 2009 or early 2010, while the Flame virus collected information on Iranian officials in 2012.
            But Tehran’s new diplomatic initiative — including the first meeting between Iranian and American foreign ministers and a telephone call between Presidents Obama and Rouhani in September —unnerved Israeli leaders. They are concerned about the side-effects of any deal, including lifting sanctions and potential rapprochement with the United States.
            A deal that lifts the world’s toughest sanctions could in turn improve Iran’s economic health and generating new income to support extremist groups, such as Hezbollah and Hamas. By October 2013, sanctions had cost Iran at least $100 billion just over the previous 18 months, Israeli Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz told Foreign Policy magazine. In 2006, Israel fought its longest war with Hezbollah; it ended without a clear victory for either side. Israel has a strategic interest in making sure Tehran does not replenish Hezbollah’s stock of weapons.
 
International Legitimacy
     Israel is also concerned that a nuclear deal could lead to Iran’s acceptance by a wider international community. Tehran has had pariah status, particularly under former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Even Iran’s powerful allies Russia and China backed punitive U.N. sanctions when Tehran refused to comply with international resolutions. But a deal on Tehran’s controversial nuclear program could be a game changer—and even draw unwanted attention on Israel’s undeclared nuclear weapons.
      President Rouhani has already called for Israeli transparency on its program. “Almost four decades of international efforts to establish a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East have regrettably failed,” Rouhani said in his speech to a U.N. disarmament conference. “Israel, the only non-party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty in this region, should join thereto without any further delay.”
 
Iran's Take on Israel's Reaction
            Tehran is aware of Israel’s growing anxiety over nuclear negotiations and new U.S.-Iran interaction. In an October 3 tweet, President Rouhani’s office suggested that Israel was jealous of the attention Iran’s diplomatic overtures have received.
            Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif interpreted Israel’s media blitz as a “sign of the frustration of warmongers.” He also implied that Jerusalem’s position would be diminished by a nuclear agreement. On October 18, he wrote on his Facebook page, “Zionists have the most fear about the success of the talks.”
 
Garrett Nada is a senior program assistant at USIP.

 
 
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Part III: Opposition to a Deal - Congress

            Any deal on Iran’s controversial nuclear program may need Congressional approval. But the Obama administration could  face a tough sell for any deal on the Hill from both Republicans and Democrats. Nearly 60 percent of sanctions imposed on Tehran have been written into law since the 1980s.
            At least a dozen members from both the Senate and House reportedly spoke with new Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Jawad Zarif during the U.N. opening in New York. Some in Congress have been outspoken in support of a deal. Zarif "doesn't play games," said Senate Select Committee on Intelligence chair Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who met him in 2006 and was among a number of members of Congress who talked to him at the United Nations in September. "I think a deal is doable."
            Other members, however, have called for new sanctions and have indicated strong skepticism about new talks between Iran and the world’s six major powers.
            More than a dozen members warned against an interim agreement reportedly discussed by world’s six major powers and Iran in Geneva between November 7 and 10. "No one who is serious about preventing a nuclear-armed Iran should be comforted by what transpired this weekend in Geneva. After ten years of talks that have been multilateral, bilateral, secret and open, we should expect more than just inconsequential interim measures from Iran," Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) said on November 10. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor told CNN he was astounded that "the White House would say that a deal that would allow enrichment of uranium and building a plutonium reactor is not a march to war."
            Several members were concerned that an interim deal could harm Israel's interests. "President Obama should not abandon our friend and ally Israel, and he should notcut a deal that endangers the national security of the United States," Senator Ted Cruz said on November 8. 
            Secretary of State John Kerry briefed the Senate Committee in a closed session on November 13.  "What we’re really asking the Congress to do is give us the time to be able to negotiate and present a good deal that will be able to protect Israel, protect our interests, protect the region, and guarantee... Iran will not be able to get a nuclear weapon," Kerry told MSNBC a day later. 
           The following are excerpted remarks by members of Congress on Iran’s new diplomacy and the nuclear talks held in Geneva in October and November.

 

Republicans
 
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (VA)
            “I find it astounding that the White House would say that a deal that would allow enrichment of uranium and building a plutonium reactor is not a march to war. That’s the march to war. The deal that was in the works would frankly allow Iran to continue its pursuit of nuclear weapons capability. What we’re trying to do in the Congress, which we’ve already done in the House, is to pass additional sanctions. It’s up to the Senate now because the House has passed the sanctions. What’s very odd right now in the Middle East is you have the Arabs and the Israelis join together in their sense that American foreign policy as is played out in that potential interim agreement is something that is not helpful to the stability of the region, and in fact those allies of ours are telling us that to allow Iran the ability to continue to enrich or to build a plutonium factory is a sure way to spawn nuclear proliferation – and God forbid, face a nuclear Iran.”
            Nov. 13, 2013 in an interview with CNN
 
Senator Marco Rubio (FL)
            “No one who is serious about preventing a nuclear-armed Iran should be comforted by what transpired this weekend in Geneva. After ten years of talks that have been multilateral, bilateral, secret and open, we should expect more than just inconsequential interim measures from Iran. 
            “The urgency of the situation and the significant progress Iran has made in its nuclear efforts over the last decade demand much more than what the Obama administration appears willing to accept. Iran continues to refuse to meet the requirements of multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions and abandon its nuclear weapons program. None of the steps Iran reportedly has proposed will do much to significantly postpone the possibility of a nuclear-armed Iran even as the U.S. and our partners would give up key economic leverage with Tehran. 
            “I am also concerned that in our haste to endorse a flawed arrangement with Iran, this administration appears willing to ignore the concerns of some of our closest allies.  We should be learning from our experiences with other nuclear rogues, such as North Korea, and not repeat the same mistakes, which I fear is the case here.”
            Nov. 10, 2013 in a statement 
 
Senator Bob Corker (TN)
            “The [U.N.] security council resolutions call for a complete stoppage [of Iran’s enrichment activities]…so you can imagine that Congress -- that put these sanctions in place with the administration kicking and screaming all the way, pushing back against these sanctions -- [is] very concerned that we’re going to deal away the leverage that we have where we finally have Iran willing to sit down and talk about these issues.
            “A partial agreement leads us down the same path we went down with North Korea, where just to get people to act right…you continue to reduce sanctions. So, again, a lot of concerns about the approach. A lot of us want to see it resolved diplomatically. We know the sanctions got us here, and we’re worried we’re dealing away our leverage.”
            Nov. 10, 2013 on NBC’s “Meet the Press”
 
Senator Mark Kirk (IL)
            “Today is the day in which I witnessed the future of nuclear war in the Middle East. This administration, like Neville Chamberlain, is yielding large and bloody conflict in the Middle East involving Iranian nuclear weapons. How do you define an Iranian moderate? An Iranian who is out of bullets and out of money.”
            Nov. 13, 2013 to reporters after Secretary of State John Kerry’s briefing
 
            “A deal that undermines sanctions and doesn't stop a future with Iranian nuclear weapons is the deal of the century for Iran.
           “According to multiple news reports, the P5+1 offered the following sanctions relief to Iran during the latest round of negotiations: repatriation of $3 billion in Iranian assets trapped in accounts overseas, in addition to the suspension of current sanctions with respect to precious metals (like gold), Iran’s petrochemical and car industries, and aviation parts.”
            Nov. 10, 2013 blog entry
 
Representative Howard P. “Buck” McKeon (CA). Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee
            “In true ‘lead from behind’ fashion, the Obama Administration appears to be entertaining a deal that snatches defeat from the jaws of victory – not unlike the precipitous withdrawal from Iraq or the contemplated ‘zero option’ in Afghanistan. Relieving sanctions without a guarantee that Iran will end its nuclear program is foolish. For some reason, this Administration has yet to meet a red line it won’t brush aside to accommodate our enemies. They must stop chasing the thrill of a deal at the expense of U.S. national security, and the security of our allies.”
            Nov. 9, 2013 in a press release
 
Senator John McCain (AZ)
            Secretary Kerry is "a good friend of mine". But “this guy has been a human wrecking ball" on Iran. "Why should Iran have the right to enrich [uranium] when they have a clear record of seeking to and taking action to acquire nuclear weapons? Canada doesn't exercise a right to enrich uranium. Mexico doesn't."
            Nov. 14, 2013 in remarks at the Washington Ideas Forum
 
Representative Ilena Ros-Lehtinen (FL)
             “If true that the Administration is actually proposing sanctions relief for Iran in exchange for a six-month halt in its nuclear program, it would be a significant error in judgment that very likely could have the opposite intended outcome. Iran has shown time and time again that it will use whatever means necessary at its disposal to buy time to complete its nuclear program. There can be no concessions whatsoever – no easing of sanctions, no deals – until Iran takes the first verifiable and concrete steps to dismantle its nuclear program.”
            Nov. 7, 2013 in a press release
 
Senator Ted Cruz (TX)
            “If the reports are correct, this is a terrible deal, and it is dangerous for America. The prospect of Iran acquiring nuclear weapon capacity is the gravest national security threat we face, yet it appears that this 'deal' does not require Iran to dismantle even a single centrifuge or turn over even a single pound of enriched uranium. To lift economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for an amorphous promise to pause their immediate efforts to acquire nuclear weapons makes no sense whatsoever. It is almost surely unverifiable, and lifting the sanctions will only encourage Iran to surreptitiously continue to develop nuclear weapons--weapons that, if acquired, pose an existential threat to America and our allies.
            "The United States should negotiate from a position of strength, not weakness. We should have insisted on good-faith measures before meeting with the Iranians directly, such as the release of Pastor Saeed Abedini and the acknowledgment of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.
            "Prime Minister Netanyahu has taken the extraordinary step of condemning what is happening in Geneva as a 'very, very bad deal.' President Obama should not abandon our friend and ally Israel, and he should notcut a deal that endangers the national security of the United States."
            Nov. 8, 2013 in a statement
       
Representative Ed Royce (CA)
            “International sanctions have forced Iran to the negotiating table; we should build upon this success with additional measures to compel Iran to make meaningful and lasting concessions.”
            Oct. 14, 2013 in a letter to President Obama
 
Representative Trent Franks (AZ)
            “As the Obama Administration now engages in negotiations with Iran, there is a legitimate risk that this Administration, in its imprudent eagerness to adopt the narrative of a more peaceful and 'moderate' Iranian regime, could strike an agreement with Iran that does not actually prevent Iran from gaining a nuclear weapons capability.”
            Oct. 15, 2013 in a press release
 
Senators Kelly Ayotte (NH), Lindsey Graham (SC) and Mark Kirk (IL)
            “Now is a time to strengthen--not weaken--U.S. and international sanctions. The U.S. should not suspend new sanctions, nor consider releasing limited frozen assets, before Tehran suspends its nuclear enrichment activities.”
            Oct. 18, 2013 in a joint statement
 
Democrats
 
Senator Chris Murphy (CT)
            “Now, the United States and the P5+1 are close to obtaining a verifiable commitment from Iran to halt activities that could eventually lead to the development of a nuclear weapon. This agreement, should it be finalized, will send a powerful message about the world community's commitment to nonproliferation and substantially advance the security of Israel and other nations in the region. At this critical juncture in these negotiations when Iran may be on the verge of making serious concessions regarding its nuclear program, I worry it would be counterproductive for Congress to authorize a new round of sanctions, diminishing American leverage and weakening the hands of Secretary Kerry and his counterparts in the P5+1. 
            “The P5+1 and Iran return to the negotiating table on November 20th, with a deal for a framework agreement reportedly very close. Congress should be clear that a failure of Iran to come to an agreement with the P5+1 will prompt the imposition of another round of sanctions; but for the time being, Congress should let our negotiators do their job.”
            Nov. 13, 2013 in a statement
 
Senator Robert Menendez (NJ), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee
            Iran is on the ropes because of its intransigent policies and our collective will, and it would be imprudent to want an agreement more than the Iranians do.
            Tougher sanctions will serve as an incentive for Iran to verifiably dismantle its nuclear weapons program. When Iran complies, sanctions can be unwound and economic relief will follow.
            This approach is in concert with our diplomatic efforts and consistent with previous actions taken by the international community. It's a necessary insurance policy, too. Should Iran fail to negotiate in good faith or abide by any agreement, the penalties will be severe.
            Nov. 13, 2013 in an op-ed for USA Today
 
Representative Eliot Engel (NY), senior Democratic member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee
            “I am closely following reports from Geneva that negotiators may soon finalize the parameters of an interim agreement regarding Iran’s nuclear program.  While I support the President’s efforts to engage with Iran, I am deeply troubled by reports that such an agreement may not require Tehran to halt its enrichment efforts.  If Iran intends to show good faith during these talks, it must at a minimum abide by United Nations Security Council resolutions calling for a halt to enrichment-- and it is my hope that we achieve much more.  In addition, I forcefully reject any notion that Iran has a ‘right’to enrichment, a view which the Administration has publicly articulated on numerous occasions.”
            Nov. 8, 2013 in a statement
 
Senator Bob Casey (PA)
            “I'd say no [if Obama asked to lift sanctions]. They've got a long way to go to demonstrate the kind of credibility that would lead us to believe we can move in a conciliatory direction. And sanctions are what has strengthened the administration's hand."
            Mid-October 2013 in comments to Foreign Policy
 
Representative Yvette Clarke (NY)
            “The removal of sanctions before Iran has demonstrated its good faith would undermine the security of the United States and its allies, such as Israel. We must maintain a policy of caution. As a member of the Committee on Homeland Security, I will continue to work with President Obama and my colleagues in the House of Representatives to eliminate any potential threats to our security.”
            Sept. 26, 2013 in a statement
 
            But some Democrats expressed support for encouraging a diplomatic outcome.
 
Representative David Price (NC)
            “Certainly there are some senators pushing for a new set of sanctions to be enacted. My own judgment is that the timing on that is very poor -- that it would be much preferable to hold that legislation in abeyance… The time may come when a new round of sanctions needs to be enacted, but my own judgment is that it would be better not to do that now, to give the diplomacy a freer reign.”
            Oct. 18, 2013 in an interview with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
 
Bipartisan Letters
            Senators Charles E. Schumer, Lindsey Graham, Robert Menendez, John McCain, Bob Casey and Susan Collins wrote to Secretary of State John Kerry, expressing their support for negotiations but cautioning the Administration against accepting a deal with Iran that would roll back economic sanctions without also rolling back progress towards nuclear weapons capability.
 
Dear Secretary Kerry:
 
We appreciate your continued efforts, in concert with our friends and allies, to negotiate with the Iranian regime. We also commend the efforts of your negotiating team to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapons capability.  Our negotiators have benefited from the effects of tough economic sanctions in bringing Iran to the table.  Without the Administration, Congress, and our allies working together, we would not have arrived at this crucial point.
 
Indeed, we support the concept of an interim agreement with Iran that would roll back its nuclear program as a first step to seeking a final settlement that prevents Iran from ever developing a nuclear weapons capability. At the same time, we are concerned that the interim agreement would require us to make significant concessions before we see Iran demonstrably commit to moving away from developing a nuclear weapons capability.
 
It is our understanding that the interim agreement now under consideration would not require Iran to even meet the terms of prior United Nations Security Council resolutions which require Iran to suspend its reprocessing, heavy water-related and enrichment-related activities and halt ongoing construction of any uranium-enrichment, reprocessing, or heavy water-related facilities. For example, we understand that the P5+1 is prepared to permit Iran to continue enriching uranium at 3.5 percent albeit for civilian use, to cap but not reduce its number of centrifuges, and to continue work around or near the Arak heavy water nuclear reactor. While the interim agreement may suggest that Iran could be willing temporarily to slow its pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability, it could also allow Iran to continue making some progress toward that end under the cover of negotiations. This does not give us confidence that Iran is prepared to abandon unambiguously its nuclear weapons pursuit altogether, as it must.
 
Furthermore, it is our understanding that in return for certain Iranian actions, the P5+1 would allow Iran to gain access to considerable amounts of capital that have been frozen by our international sanctions. Some have estimated the value of this capital for Iran as much as $10 billion. We regard this as a major concession on our part that would not be justified by the concessions the Iranian regime would be required to make in return. If we are reducing sanctions, Iran should be reducing its nuclear capabilities.
 
As you know, it is not just the sanctions themselves but the threat that they would continue to tighten that has brought the Iranians to the negotiating table. Easing sanctions now without real, tangible actions by Iran to roll back its nuclear program would not only diminish this threat of future pressure, it could make it more difficult to maintain the current sanctions regime at a time when many international actors are already eager to lessen their implementation of sanctions. We feel strongly that any easing of sanctions along the lines that the P5+1 is reportedly considering should require Iran to roll back its nuclear program more significantly than now envisioned.  
 
It is our belief that any interim agreement with the Iranians should bring us closer to our ultimate goal which is Iran without a nuclear weapons capability.  We must ensure that the steps we take in the coming weeks and months move us towards a resolution that ultimately brings Iran in compliance with all relevant United Nations Security Council Resolutions, seeks to prevent Tehran from possessing any enrichment or reprocessing capability, and resolves any and all fears that Iran will develop a nuclear weapons capability.
 
The upcoming round of negotiations could hardly be more important and we must be ever mindful of with whom we are negotiating. Iran has been the largest state sponsor of terrorism for over thirty years; its leaders routinely call for the destruction of Israel; and it arms and finances terrorist groups around the globe. We urge you and your negotiating team to fight for an interim agreement that demands as much or more of Iran as it does of the United States and our allies. We hope in the next few weeks we and our partners will redouble our efforts to gain greater proportionality and to finalize an agreement that demonstrates that Iran is moving away from the nuclear weapons path.
 
            A bipartisan group of 10 senators and another group of 78 freshman representatives expressed their concern about Iran negotiations in letters to President Obama. Both urged the administration to increase pressure on Tehran.
 
October 11, 2013
 
Dear Mr. President:
 
As representatives of the P5+1 and the Iranian government prepare to enter another round of negotiations to verifiably end Iran’s nuclear weapon program, we reiterate the four strategic elements articulated by 76 Senators to you on August 2, 2013  necessary to achieve resolution of the nuclear issue: (1) an explicit and continuing message that we will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapons capability, (2) a sincere demonstration of openness to negotiations by Iran, (3) the maintenance and toughening of sanctions, and (4) a convincing threat of the use of force.
 
We support your efforts to explore a diplomatic opening, but we believe that the true test of Iranian sincerity is a willingness to match rhetoric with actions.  The critical test will be Iran’s proposal to the P5+1 this week in Geneva.  Iran’s first confidence-building action should be full cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency, fulfillment of its responsibilities under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, and implementation of all Resolutions passed by the United Nations Security Council regarding Iran’s nuclear weapons program, to include immediate suspension of all enrichment activity.  If the Iranian government takes these steps in a verifiable and transparent manner, we are willing to match Iran’s good-faith actions by suspending the implementation of the next round of sanctions currently under consideration by the Congress.  In short, the U.S. should consider, with the other members of the P5+1, a “suspension for suspension” initial agreement - in which Iran suspends enrichment and the U.S. suspends the implementation of new sanctions.
 
For the P5+1 states, such an agreement would ease concerns that Iran is using the  talks as a subterfuge while its centrifuges spin and for Iran it would suspend critical additional sanctions on its key economic sectors.
 
The intent of sanctions is to force Iran to halt and dismantle its nuclear weapons program.  Once this goal has been accomplished in a real, transparent, and verifiable way we will be prepared to remove existing sanctions in a measured, sequenced manner.  However, at this time, we reaffirm that a credible military threat remains on the table and we underscore the imperative that the current sanctions be maintained aggressively, and call on you to increase pressure through sanctions already in place. 
 
A nuclear weapons capable Iran threatens regional stability and international security and directly threatens U.S. national security interests.  As we previously cautioned, Iran has historically used negotiations to affect progress on its nuclear weapons program.  We must continue to realistically evaluate Iranian intentions, and we reiterate that the centrifuges cannot be allowed to continue spinning. 
 
We reject Iranian statements that Iran should be able to continue enrichment in its own territory.  Indeed, this is not a prerequisite for a peaceful nuclear energy program.  Countries from Canada, to Mexico and South Africa benefit from peaceful nuclear energy programs, without indigenous enrichment programs.  Iran does have a right to a peaceful nuclear energy program; it does not have a right to enrichment.
 
We remind you that the U.S. Department of State has characterized Iran as “the most active state sponsor of terrorism” and to be sure, verifiable dismantlement of the Iranian nuclear weapons program will not resolve the Iranian government’s deplorable abuse of basic human rights, denial of basic civil freedoms, or its ongoing activities that seek to destabilize the region. 
 
We remain hopeful that talks next week in Geneva lead to concrete Iranian actions to prove to the world that Iran does not seek a nuclear weapons capability.  However, if Iranian actions fail to match the rhetorical reassurances of the last two weeks, we are prepared to move forward with new sanctions to increase pressure on the government in Tehran.
 
Sincerely,
 
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ)
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY)
Sen .Roy Blunt (R-MO)
Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA)
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ)
Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD)
Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH)
Sen. Robert Casey Jr. (D-PA)
Sen. Christopher A. Coons (D-DE)
 
October 4, 2013
 
Dear Mr. President:
 
We, members of the House of Representatives freshman class, Republican and Democrat, many of whom have recently returned from a visit to the Middle East, are deeply concerned about the prospects of a nuclear-armed Iran. We hope your recent historic direct conversation with President Rouhani will help resolve this issue. We write to share with you our view that time is running out and America must continue to broaden and strengthen our enforcement of sanctions against Iran until Tehran takes meaningful steps to stop and reverse its illicit nuclear activities.
 
We share your conviction that Iran must not be allowed to develop a nuclear weapon, and we are appreciative of the extensive sanctions your administration has implemented. At the same time, we believe there is a need to do more to pressure Iran to end its nuclear program. That is the reason the House overwhelmingly passed the Nuclear Iran Prevention Act of 2013 this summer.
 
Like you, we wish to see Iranian President Hassan Rouhani limit Iran's nuclear program and engage in serious negotiations. We acknowledge encouraging words coming from the new president. Sadly however, since his election, there is no substantive evidence to suggest that Iran is slowing, or even considering slowing, its nuclear pursuit. Instead, the 28 August International Atomic Energy Agency report suggests that Iran is, in fact, accelerating its nuclear efforts. Tehran continues its large-scale installation of advanced, higher-speed centrifuges that will enable significantly more rapid production of weapons-grade uranium. Iran is also pursuing the plutonium path and has begun production of heavy water to feed its Arak reactor.
 
We welcome the possibility of improved ties with Iran. But we believe that we must increase the intensity and accelerate the pace of our pressure on Iran as long as it is accelerating its efforts towards a nuclear weapons capability Until Iran fundamentally changes course, the United States must continue to toughen sanctions. We, therefore, urge you to utilize the full set of sanctions available under current law. We believe we must focus on the energy and financial sectors, but also step up pressure in other sectors, such as construction and foreign exchange, where Iran seeks to offset the effects of current sanctions.
 
Finally, as we try to open the path to negotiations, we believe it is imperative that you make clear to Tehran that the United States will not allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons; that we will step up sanctions until it reverses its nuclear program, and that we stand ready to use force if necessary.
 
Mr. President, we want to work with you to bring Iran to the table, including implementing increasingly tougher sanctions to ensure that Iran does not acquire a nuclear weapons capability. The world is watching and history will judge us by our success protecting the region and the world from a nuclear-armed Iran.
 
Sincerely,
 
Representative Bradley Schneider (D-IL)
Representative Luke Messer (R-IN)
 
Click here for a complete list of the 78 signatories.
 
 

 

Iranians' Support for Syria Wanes

            Less than half of Iranians support economic, military or political support for the Syrian regime, according to a new Gallup World poll. The Iranian government, however, has been a staunch defender of Bashar al Assad’s government since the conflict erupted in early 2011. Tehran has reportedly provided military support, lent billions of dollars and sold discounted oil to Damascus. Yet many Iranians are not even following the events in Syria. The following are excerpts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Most Iranians Not Following the Conflict
            Although the survival of Assad's regime has long been closely pegged to Iran's security strategy in the region, the majority of Iranians are not closely following the news out of Syria. About four in 10 Iranians (39%) say they are following the Syrian conflict "very closely" or "somewhat closely," while 18% say they are not watching closely at all and 41% do not have an opinion.
 
            Iranians who say they are paying closer attention to the war are significantly more likely to favor Iran's involvement in the conflict, including sending economic aid (60%), military support (49%), and lending political support (65%). Among the minority of Iranians who say they are not following the conflict closely at all, 37% favor sending military support to Syria.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Click here for the full report.
 

Geneva Talks: Progress, But No Nuclear Deal

            Iran and the world’s six major powers made significant headway but ultimately failed to finalize an agreement at grueling talks between November 7 and 10. Foreign ministers from the United States, Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia rushed to Geneva as a breakthrough appeared imminent. But last-minute differences, reportedly spurred by French demands for tougher terms, blocked a deal that might have temporarily frozen Iran’s nuclear program in return for modest sanctions relief. Negotiators will resume talks in Geneva on November 20.

      “We have just come from a long meeting this evening with the E3+3 ministers, after three days of intense and constructive discussions. A lot of concrete progress has been achieved but some differences remain,” said E.U. High Representative Catherine Ashton and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif in a joint statement. The following are key remarks from press conferences, interviews and social media after the talks.

 
Secretary of State John Kerry
            “We were very, very close, actually, extremely close [to reaching an agreement]. I think we were separated by four or five different formulations of a particular concept…
            “The Iranians had objections to certain parts of the language themselves which we had to work out and we had to negotiate. So there was still open negotiating beyond whatever the British or the French or the Germans or anybody else brought to the table. Obviously, the French have been more vocal about one thing or another, but the fact is that we had a unity on Saturday in a proposal put in front of the Iranians. But because of some the changes they felt they had to go back and change it.
            “So we achieved unity. And we achieved, I think, a reasonable proposal that protected the interests that we’re seeking to protect, while recognizing this was a first step, not an agreement. The hardest part of this comes after the first step. But I was pleased with the amount of work done and we will just continue to work. That’s the nature of diplomacy.”
            Nov. 11, 2013 in an interview with the BBC
 
            “The negotiations were conducted with mutual respect. They were very serious. But they were conducted in a very civil and appropriate way for a subject matter as serious as this one…We came to Geneva to narrow the differences. And I can tell you without any exaggeration we not only narrowed differences and clarified those that remain, but we made significant progress in working through the approaches to this question of how one brings in a program that guarantees this peaceful nature. There’s no question in my mind that we are closer now, as we leave Geneva, than we were when we came, and that with good work and good faith over the course of the next weeks, we can in fact secure our goal.”
            Nov. 10, 2013 in a press conference in Geneva
 
            P5+1 ministers were “unified on Saturday when we presented a proposal to the Iranians, and the French signed off on it, we signed off on it, and everybody agreed it was a fair proposal. There was unity, but Iran couldn't take it at that particular moment, they weren't able to accept that particular thing.”
            Nov. 11, 2013 at press conference in the U.A.E.
 
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif
            "I'm not disappointed at all. What I was looking for was the political determination, willingness and good faith in order to end this…
            "I think it was natural that when we started dealing with the details, there would be differences….Hopefully we will be able to reach an agreement when we meet again.
            "We are all on the same wavelength and that's important... actually I think we had a very good, productive three days and it's something we can build on to move forward…
            "We had a very good three days, a very productive three days. And it's something that we can build on."
            Nov. 10, 2013 in a press conference in Geneva
 
            On November 11, Zarif tweeted his reaction to Kerry’s claim that Iran’s negotiators were unable to sign the agreement.
 
            On November 12, Zarif gave his first television interview on the talks. The following is a link, with English subtitles, to his appearance.
 

 
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Twitter

 
President Hassan Rouhani on Twitter
 
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov
            “The meeting demonstrated that over that past year polemics and exchange of initial positions without any attempt to bring them closer are paling into insignificance in talks on this subject…Iran’s new leadership, and we hail it, has demonstrated its commitment to make steps in this direction and the talks with Iranian representatives were utterly concrete concerning practical aspects of the Iranian nuclear program.
             Nov. 10, 2013 in a statement
 
 

Iran Launches Flashy Nuclear Website

             Tehran has a launched sophisticated new website, NuclearEnergy.ir, to convince the world – in English – that its nuclear energy program is both peaceful and necessary for modern development, despite Iran’s vast oil and gas resources. The Islamic Republic’s ambitious public diplomacy campaign confronts the most controversial issues head on in an attempt, it claims, to be transparent.

            The site covers eight broad aspects of Iran’s nuclear program, from public opinion to the country’s motives for attaining atomic energy. One section counters allegations that Tehran’s nuclear program has military ambitions to build the world’s deadliest weapon. The website argues that many accusations were politically motivated or unwarranted.
            Another section outlines the terms discussed during each round of nuclear talks held since 2003. In several instances, the website claims that Iran upheld commitments while Western powers did not.
            The site also includes “Frequently Asked Questions” answers to more than 70 simple propositions, such as “What is the aim of Iran’s development of nuclear technology?” and “How do ordinary Iranians feel about their country’s nuclear energy program?”
            The website, launched just before the November nuclear talks in Geneva, appears to be connected to the government. The site’s Twitter account has frequently tweeted remarks by Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on the nuclear issue. President Hassan Rouhani’s office has also retweeted many of its postings. The following is a rundown of the site’s offerings.

 

Motives
            The extensive section cites a quickly growing population, an increasing demand for electricity and Iran’s need to replace oil and gas with other energy sources:
 
            “Iran’s current population is estimated at nearly 80 million, with most below the age of 30. In comparison, the country had a population of 33 million in the mid-1970s, when it contracted the construction of its first nuclear power plant to West Germany. Projections show Iran’s population will likely reach 100 million by 2025. Naturally, along with the increase in population comes a rise in demand for electricity.”
            “Iran’s electricity needs are currently met by the use of traditional energy sources such as oil, natural gas and coal. However, Iran can barely keep up with its electricity consumption using these finite resources. If natural gas and oil are not replaced by another energy source, and crude production is not significantly increased, Iran may become a net importer of oil over the next decade. Therefore, the Iranian government has emphasized the development of alternative energy sources.
            “One alternative is nuclear power – an energy source which can produce more electricity than any other renewable option such as solar or wind power. Today, nuclear power accounts for only one percent of Iran’s total electricity generation. Iran, however, hopes to change this and plans to produce 20,000 megawatts of nuclear-generated electricity by 2020. If successful, this could save it 190 million barrels of crude oil every year, tantamount to an annual saving of nearly $14 billion.”
 
Energy Security
            “Iran’s efforts to gain access to nuclear technology date back to 1957, when it signed an agreement with the United States on cooperation in research on the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. A decade later, in 1967, the United States supplied Iran with its first nuclear reactor, the Tehran Research Reactor, which is still in use. Washington also provided Iran with weapons-grade uranium to use as fuel for the 5-megawatt research reactor.”
            “In 1976, US President Gerald Ford went as far as offering Iran the opportunity to buy and operate an American-built multinational reprocessing facility to extract plutonium from nuclear fuel. The deal was for a complete nuclear fuel cycle.”
            “But in the aftermath of Iran’s Islamic Revolution in 1979, the United States and its European allies ended their efforts to help Tehran develop its nuclear energy program… The United States, meanwhile, stopped supplying fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor, effectively forcing the closure of the American-supplied facility for a number of years. These developments convinced Iran that foreign supplies of nuclear fuel were unreliable at best and that it had no choice but to produce its own enriched uranium.”
 
Timelines
            The site also offers a detailed timeline on Iran’s energy program dating back to the 1950s under the monarch. It also chronicles the key U.S. role in providing the first research reactor. Click here to view it.
 
 
 
      The site offers another detailed timeline with the terms under discussion for all negotiations dating to 2003. Click here for the chronology.
 
 
 
 
 
      The website provides an outline of public opinion polls in Iran about the nuclear energy program since 2006.
 
 
 
 
 
 
Facilities
            One section outlines the activities at each of Iran’s major nuclear facilities. Click here for the rundown.
 
            “Iran produces UF6 enriched up to 19.75 percent at the Shahid Masoud Alimohammadi Fuel Enrichment Plant. The site, which is also known Fordow, is a centrifuge enrichment plant built deep underground near the city of Qom. The area is located some 100 km from the Iranian capital, Tehran. In 2009, Iran informedthe IAEA about its plans to build the facility.”
 
            “Fordow was completed in 2011 and is designed to hold as many as 2,976 centrifuges, divided between Unit 1 and Unit 2. According to the IAEA, Iran had installed 2,784 centrifuges at Fordow as of August 2013, though only around a quarter of these centrifuges were in operation at the time.
            “As of August 2013, Iran had produced about 195 kg of UF6 enriched up to 19.75 percent at Fordow since the inauguration of the plant. The site is named after the Iranian scientist Masoud Alimohammadi, who was assassinated in Tehran in 2010. Iranian authorities blame his assassination on the United States and Israel.”
 
Iran’s Rights and Obligations
     
      One section of the site covers Iran’s rights and obligations under international law and U.N. agreements. It also details Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s 2003 fatwa (religious edict) against nuclear weapons. Click here for the rundown.
 
 
 
            “Ayatollah Khomeini’s successor as Iran’s Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has also pronounced a fatwa forbidding the production, stockpiling and use of weapons of mass destruction, and specifically nuclear arms. He first issued the fatwa in October 2003 but has reiterated it several times ever since in an effort to underline the high significance of the issue.
            “On November 5th 2004, in a Friday prayers sermon, Ayatollah Khamenei is quoted as having said: “No sir, we are not seeking to have nuclear weapons,” and added that to “manufacture, possess or use them, that all poses a problem. I have expressed my religious convictions about this, and everyone knows it.”
      “In another speech delivered in June 2009, Ayatollah Khamenei repeated once again, “[t]he Iranian people and their officials have declared time and again that the nuclear weapon is religiously forbidden (Haram) in Islam and they do not have such a weapon. But the Western countries and America in particular through false propaganda claim that Iran seeks to build nuclear bombs which is totally false and a breach of the legitimate rights of the Iranian nation.”
 
 

 

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