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Congress Urges Action on Iran Missile Tests

U.S. lawmakers have urged President Obama to take action regarding alleged Iranian ballistic missile launches in October and November 2015. On Jan. 16, 2016, Senator David Purdue (R-GA) and 12 other Republicans requested a roadmap of what he considers illicit behavior by Iran and what punitive steps will be taken in the event of such behavior. “Condemnations of Iran's blatant disregard for its international obligations are not enough,” wrote Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) and 35 other Republican senators in December 2015. Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) organized a similar letter signed by 20 other Democrats. A 2010 U.N. Security Council resolution prohibits Iran from testing ballistic missiles.
In October 2015, Britain, France and the United States called on the U.N. Security Council to investigate Iran’s test launch of a medium-range Emad ballistic missile they said was “inherently capable of delivering a nuclear weapon.” U.N. sanctions monitors concluded in a confidential report seen by Reuters on Dec. 15, 2015 that the missile was indeed capable of delivering a nuclear warhead, a violation of Security Council resolution 1929. Iranian Mohammad Javad Zarif, however, told The New Yorker that the missiles are not designed “to be capable of carrying nuclear warheads and, therefore, it is within our right to self-defense.”
Iran also reportedly tested a medium-range Ghadr-110 missile near the port city of Chabahar on Nov. 21, 2015, according to a Western diplomatic source. The missile is a spinoff of the Shahab-3, which is based on a North Korean missile. Tehran began flight tests of the Ghadr in 2004. Iran has the largest and most diverse ballistic arsenal in the Middle East, mostly acquired from foreign sources.
In late December 2015, U.S. media reports citing Obama administration officials said that the White House was delaying new financial sanctions on Iran for its missile program. Iranian officials in turn reiterated previous warnings warned that the supreme leader would view new sanctions as a violation of the nuclear deal. On Oct. 21, 2015, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had penned a letter to President Hassan Rouhani saying that “any imposition of sanctions at any level and under any pretext on the part of any of the countries involved in the negotiations will constitute a violation.”
U.S. officials denied that Iran’s defiance played a part in the delay. Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes said the administration has “additional work that needs to be done” before finalizing the sanctions, but emphasized that “this is not something that we would negotiate with the Iranian government.”
On Jan. 5, 2016, Iran revealed a new underground missile base containing Emad missiles. The footage was released five days after President Hassan Rouhani called for accelerating Iran’s missile capability, in response reports that the U.S. Treasury was preparing to expand sanctions on Iran’s ballistic missile program. Rouhani denounced the potential sanctions as “illegitimate and illegal meddling in the Islamic Republic of Iran's right to reinvigorate its defense power.”
Dozens of members of Congress have issued statements and written letters urging President Obama to hold Iran accountable for the missile launches and other illicit behavior in recent months. The following are letters and statements by lawmakers. 

13 Republican Senators
Dear President Obama,
We write to express our continued concern regarding Iran’s tests of the Emad and Ghadr-110 ballistic missiles on October 10 and November 21 of 2015, respectively. We are concerned that Iran’s belligerent actions have thus far gone unpunished. As members of this body have warned before, a failure to enforce the rules is an invitation for further Iranian transgressions.
On December 17, in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Ambassador
Stephen Mull confirmed that both of Iran’s ballistic missile tests violated multiple United
Nations Security Council resolutions, including Resolution 1929 and continued in Resolution
2231, which followed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). We were encouraged to see a notification on December 30 that your administration was preparing to sanction 11 companies and individuals for their role in helping Iran’s missile developers illegally procure key items from foreign suppliers. However, we were troubled to see your administration indefinitely delay these sanctions hours later.
We are concerned that, despite assurances from the State Department, the sanctions delay was a reaction to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s move to accelerate Iran’s missile program as well as Tehran’s repeated threats to withdraw from the agreement if any new sanctions are imposed.
Yet last year, you and your administration repeatedly assured Congress that our nation would retain the ability to punish Iran for its aggressive and illicit behavior-ranging from support of terrorism to human rights abuses to missile activity-and that this toolkit would include the use of sanctions. In a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on July 23, 2015, Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew told us, “[w]e have also made clear we reserve the right to put additional sanctions in place to address concerns about terrorism [and] human rights.”
These ballistic missile tests come in the wake of mounting Iranian aggression both domestically and in the region. Since the signing of the JCPOA in July, Iran has fired rockets near U.S. warships; fomented unrest in Yemen; sent weapons to the regime of Bashar al-Assad in violation of the arms embargo; taken another American hostage and refused to release the ones it presently holds; and continued its support for Hamas and Hezbollah terrorists. In practice, it appears that your administration has allowed Iran to dictate the implementation of the nuclear deal by not taking punitive action for any of these transgressions.
To address these concerns, as well as to demonstrate to Iran’s leadership the consequences of further illicit behavior, we request that you provide a roadmap of what you consider to be illicit behavior from Iran, and what sanctions or punitive steps will be taken in the event of such behavior. Specifically, we ask you to describe what actions the Treasury Department is ready to take against those individuals and entities involved in the ballistic missile program and those Iranian and foreign banks that are financing it.
If your goal is to ensure Iranian compliance with the JCPOA, it is absolutely crucial that Iran’s blatant misbehavior is met with real consequences. As we reportedly near the JCPOA’s
Implementation Day, it is imperative that Congress and the American people be assured that
Iran’s transgressions will not continue to go unpunished.
Thank you for your attention to this very serious issue. We look forward to your prompt and detailed response.
David Perdue (R-GA)
Mark Kirk (R-IL)
Thom Tillis (R-NC)
Ted Cruz (R-TX)
Johnny Isakson (R-GA)
Jerry Moran (R-KS)
Dan Coats (R-IN)
Kelly Ayotte (R-NH)
Bill Cassidy (R-LA)
John Boozman (R-AR)
Jim Inhofe (R-OK)
Cory Gardner (R-CO)
Orrin Hatch (R-UT),
—Jan. 15, 2016, in a letter


Seven Democratic Representatives
Dear Mr. President:
We write to express our serious concern with Iran’s recent violation of international law by test-firing medium-range ballistic missiles in October and November 2015.
As you know, the United Nations (UN) Security Panel of Experts concluded that the October test was a blatant violation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1929.  While the UN Panel has yet to characterize Iran’s second medium range ballistic missile test in November as a violation, both exercises foster insecurity in surrounding countries about Iran’s military capabilities and intent.
Additionally, an Iranian rocket—fired by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps during live-fire exercises—came within just 1,500 feet last week of the U.S. aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman that was operating in the Strait of Hormuz.
Such aggressive and destabilizing behavior is deeply troubling, particularly preceding implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and demands a U.S. response. While not all of us share the same opinion on the JCPOA, we are united in our desire to ensure it is vigilantly enforced and to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
For this reason, the United States and our allies must take immediate, punitive action and send a clear message to Iran that violating international laws, treaties, and agreements will have serious consequences. We understand the Administration is preparing sanctions against individuals and entities involved in Iran’s ballistic missile program, and we urge you to announce such sanctions without further delay.
Inaction from the United States would send the misguided message that, in the wake of the JCPOA, the international community has lost the willingness to hold the Iranian regime accountable for its support for terrorism and other offensive actions throughout the region—including in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon, and the Gaza Strip. This behavior—including these ballistic missile tests—poses a direct threat to American national security interests and those of our allies.
As Members of Congress committed to regional and international security and stability, we stand ready to assist you in holding Iran accountable for its actions. Thank you for your attention to this critical matter, and we look forward to your response.
DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ                                         
ALBIO SIRES                                           
GERALD E. CONNOLLY                              
—Jan. 6, 2016, in a letter


36 Republican Senators organized by Kelly Ayotte (R-NH)

Dear Mr. President,

As you know, in addition to Ambassador Samantha Power's determination two months ago, the United Nations Security Council's Panel of Experts on Iran has reportedly concluded that Iran's October 10 test of a ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear weapon violated United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1929. As we have repeatedly emphasized, condemnations of Iran's blatant disregard for its international obligations are not enough. A failure of your administration to follow tough statements with tangible consequences invites Iran to continue violating its obligations and threatens Americans and our allies.

Approximately a week after Iran's October 10 test, Ambassador Power confirmed that the test was a "clear violation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1929." After that test, many of us called for your administration to hold Iran accountable-warning that a failure to do so encourages more violations. Not surprisingly, on November 21, Iran reportedly conducted another ballistic missile test.
These ballistic missile tests enhance Tehran's capability to target our ally Israel and U.S. military personnel in the region. They also help Iran advance its intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) program that-once fielded-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has said would serve as Tehran's "preferred method of delivering nuclear weapons..." That is why it is a mistake to treat Iran's ballistic missile program as separate from Iran's nuclear program. Iran is developing ICBM capabilities for the sole purpose of enabling delivery of a nuclear weapon to the United States.
On July 7, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey, testified that "...under no circumstances should we relieve pressure on Iran relative to ballistic missile capabilities..." We are concerned that the nuclear agreement with Iran will do just that, and a failure to enforce UNSCR 1929 will only relieve the pressure on Iran further.
On October 14, Ambassador Power said, "One of the really important features in implementation of the recent Iran deal to dismantle Iran's nuclear program is going to have to be enforcement of the resolutions and the standards that remain on the books." We could not agree more, and we are concerned that your administration is failing to respond to Iran's dangerous and destabilizing actions out of an eagerness to see the Iran deal go forward. This approach toward Tehran undermines further an already weak Iran deal and jeopardizes our national security interests and the safety of Americans and our allies.
For these reasons, we urge your administration to not lift sanctions on Iran that would provide billions of dollars in economic relief.
Thank you for your attention to this very serious issue.
Kelly Ayotte
Mark Kirk
John McCain
John Thune
Tom Cotton
Mike Lee
Dan Sullivan
Roger Wicker
John Cornyn
Orrin Hatch
Mitch McConnell
Thom Tillis
David Perdue
Roy Blunt
James Risch
Michael Enzi
Cory Gardner
M. Michael Rounds
Deb Fischer
Lisa Murkowski
Johnny Isakson
Lindsey Graham
Chuck Grassley
John Boozman
John Barrasso
James Inhofe
Jerry Moran
Pat Roberts
Ted Cruz
Lamar Alexander
Joni Ernst
Patrick Toomey
Ben Sasse
Tim Scott
Dean Heller
Mike Crapo
—Dec. 16, 2015, in a letter


21 Democratic Senators organized by Ben Cardin (D-MD)
Dear Mr. President:
We are deeply concerned by Iran’s continued violations of UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1929 by testing a second ballistic missile on November 21, 2015.  Once again, the international community has an opportunity to demonstrate its resolve in the face of Iranian violations of its international obligations.
On December 15, a panel of expert monitors working on behalf of the United Nations Security Council reported that, "On the basis of its analysis and findings the Panel concludes that the Emad launch on October 10th is a violation by Iran of paragraph 9 of Security Council Resolution 1929."  Unfortunately, some members of the UN Security Council failed to condemn this violation and failed to take steps collectively to enforce Resolution 1929.  If there are no consequences for this violation, Iran’s leaders will certainly also question the willingness of the international community to respond to violations of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and UN Security Council Resolution 2231. 
The November test is Iran’s second recent violation of UNSCR 1929, which clearly states “Iran shall not undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using ballistic missile technology.”  Clearly, the Security Council should take appropriate enforcement action against Iran in the face of this violation. On this matter, we recognize and appreciate United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power’s ongoing efforts to build support to enforce consequences for the October 10 ballistic missile test by referring the issue to the Iran Sanctions Committee and advocating for a forceful response by the UN Security Council. However, in the time it took the Panel of Experts to make a determination on the first violation, Iran tested another ballistic missile.
In the absence of a UN Security Council commitment to enforcing UNSCR 1929, we request that you take action unilaterally, or in coordination with our European allies.  Such action is essential to make clear to Iran’s leaders that there will be consequences for future violations of UN Security Council Resolutions and that the United States reserves the right under the JCPOA to take unilateral action in response to this and other significant actions by Iran in the areas of ballistic missile development, terrorism and human rights.
Senator Benjamin L. Cardin
Senator Charles E. Schumer
Senator Richard Blumenthal
Senator Christopher Coons
Senator Gary Peters
Senator Michael F. Bennet
Senator Ron Wyden
Senator Jeanne Shaheen
Senator Debbie Stabenow
Senator Heidi Heitkamp
Senator Tim Kaine
Senator Bill Nelson
Senator Edward J. Markey
Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand
Senator Robert P. Casey, Jr.
Senator Mark R. Warner
Senator Cory A. Booker
Senator Maria Cantwell
Senator Martin Heinrich
Senator Barbara A. Mikulski
Senator Jeff Merkley 
—Dec. 17, 2015, in a letter
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI)
In July, the Obama administration reached a dangerous nuclear agreement with Iran, despite opposition from a bipartisan majority in the House. 
“Nevertheless, the hasn’t stopped Iran from continuing to imprison American citizens, like Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, or developing advanced weapons to attack the West. 
“Yesterday, we learned that Iran recently tested a medium-range ballistic missile in direct violation of two United Nations Security Council resolutions. In fact, the nuclear agreement itself calls on Tehran to stop its ballistic missile program for at least the next eight years. 
“This marks the second time Iran has illegally tested a ballistic missile since the nuclear agreement was signed. And yet the response from the Obama administration has effectively been nothing. 
“It’s clear Iran feels immune to pursue its illicit behavior despite the so-called binding, international agreement it just signed. The administration may give the mullahs another free pass, but we will not. 
“This week, the House will consider bipartisan legislation to sanction the Lebanese-based terrorist group Hezbollah—an Iranian proxy responsible for hundreds of American deaths. Deal or no deal, we cannot allow Iran’s threatening activities to continue without consequence. 
—Dec. 8, 2015, via the Speaker’s Press Office 
Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ)
“What has happened as a result of Iran violating the U.N. Security Council resolutions as it relates to missile testing? Absolutely nothing. Something is wrong because the silence is so deafening.”
“Iran can support terror, Iran can develop its nuclear program, Iran can foment secretariat conflict across the Middle East … and yet, it will be rewarded with a multibillion dollar sanctions relief this coming year.”
—Dec. 8, 2015, in a floor statement 
Senator Bob Corker (R-TN)
“Iran violates U.N. Security Council resolutions because it knows neither this administration nor the U.N. Security Council is likely to take any action,” 
“Instead, the administration remains paralyzed and responds to Iran's violations with empty words of condemnation and concern. These continued violations without consequences also validate concern that all leverage will shift to Iran once sanctions are removed. If we cannot respond to a clear violation of a U.N. Security Council resolution, I have no faith that the U.N. and the Obama administration will implement any form of snapback in response to Iranian violations of the nuclear agreement. 
“The administration has the authority to penalize foreign individuals who engage in proliferation-related activities like ballistic missile launches,”  
“They have used that authority in the past, and should do so again.” 
—Dec. 8, 2015 in a press release 
Senator Chris Coons (D-DE)
“I don't know why the administration has hesitated, but I am urging them publicly and privately to move ahead with those designations.”
“I am concerned with the hesitation to move forward with the ballistic missile related designations.”
“We should take action, and I think that’s critical to our demonstrating a determination to hold Iran accountable for its acts.”
—Jan. 11, 2016, to reporters
Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL)
Dear Mr. President,

As you know, on October 10, Iran conducted a test of a ballistic missile capable of delivering a nuclear weapon. Ambassador Power confirmed that the test was a "clear violation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1929." On October 14, we sent a letter to you asking what specific steps your administration planned to take in order to respond to this test. In that letter, we emphasized our concern that tough statements followed by inaction would further undermine U.S. national security. Almost two months later, we have not received a substantive response, and it is not clear whether your administration has taken any appropriate steps to hold Tehran accountable for its violation of its international commitments. Yesterday, not surprisingly, there were reports that Iran conducted another ballistic missile test on November 21, and we write again to ask how your administration will respond.
As we emphasized in our October letter, we have three major concerns about these tests. First, these ballistic missile tests further Iran's intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) program that-once fielded-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has said would serve as Tehran's "preferred method of delivering nuclear weapons..." The tests also underscore yet again Tehran's longstanding and continued willingness to ignore its obligations and demonstrate that we should not expect Iran to abide by its commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Finally, the ballistic missile tests enhance Tehran's capability to target our ally Israel and U.S. military personnel in the region. In fact, recent reports suggest that the missile tested by Iran last month has a range of approximately 1,200 miles. In addition to advancing Tehran's ICBM program, that means Tehran could use this missile to threaten thousands of forward deployed U.S. troops, Israel, and eastern Europe.
The December 2, 2015, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report only heightens these concerns. According to the report on Iran's nuclear program, the IAEA assessed that "Iran conducted computer modelling of a nuclear explosive device prior to 2004 and between 2005 and 2009." This was more recent than many suspected. The IAEA report makes clear that Iran continues to hide its activities. Most disturbingly, the IAEA concluded that Tehran's activities at the Parchin military complex "seriously undermined the Agency's ability to conduct effective verification."
While your administration has attempted to treat Iran's ballistic missile program as separate from Iran's nuclear program, this approach does not withstand scrutiny-as DNI Clapper's testimony makes clear. Iran is developing ICBM capabilities and the sole purpose of an Iranian ICBM is to enable delivery of a nuclear weapon to the United States. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, testified that "...under no circumstances should we relieve pressure on Iran relative to ballistic missile capabilities..." Unfortunately, that is exactly one of the things that the Iran deal will accomplish.
In light of this, we renew our questions in our October 14, 2015, letter to you, and we reiterate our belief that a failure to hold Iran accountable to its international obligations will invite more violations from Tehran and further endanger the security of Americans and our allies. In short, we would like to know what specific steps your administration plans to take to respond Iran's two ballistic missile tests in as many months. 

Thank you for your attention to this very serious issue.
Senator Kelly Ayotte
Senator Mark Kirk
—Dec. 8, 2015, in a letter
Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-MA), Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL)
Dear President Obama,
We write to express our deep concern over Iran's launch of a long-range ballistic missile on October 11, 2015 in violation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1929. Iran's acquisition of such capacity threatens both the security of Israel and the interests of the United States in the region; we urge you to hold Iran accountable for this action. Additional reports this week now indicate that a second violation has taken place. According to Western officials, Iran conducted another missile test, in violation of UNSC resolutions, on November 21st.
We, like many of our colleagues, held differing views about the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) when it came before Congress for a vote. However, we now share a sharp focus on scrupulous verification and rigorous enforcement, both of the nuclear deal itself and of Iran's other obligations under international law. It is critically important that the United Nations Security. Council (UNSC) continue to enforce the resolutions that govern Iran's acquisition and development of missile technology, for these provisions have profound impacts on the national security interests of the United States and our allies. Should the UNSC fail to do so, the United States must take action on its own.
If the Government of Iran is truly progressing, in line with its JCPOA commitments, towards the day when the IAEA can reach the Broader Conclusion that all nuclear materials in the country remain in peaceful activities, then its leaders should have no need for technology capable of delivering nuclear weapons, and they should have no objection to full compliance with UNSC resolutions 1929 and 2331. The October 11th launch clearly violated UNSC Resolution 1929, which remains in effect until Implementation Day, as well as UNSC Resolution 2331, which becomes effective on Implementation Day. Both resolutions prohibit Iran from undertaking activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons, "including launches using such ballistic missile technology."'
We urge you to call on the Security Council to condemn this violation and to sanction any entity involved in this illegal launch. If the Security Council does not act to sanction such a clear-cut violation of international law, the Administration, or Congress, must act unilaterally to impose U.S. sanctions against these entities. As we move towards implementation of the JCPOA, the response of the Security Council and the United States to this incident must establish a critical precedent: that Iran's full compliance with the JCPOA and with UN Security Council Resolutions is non-negotiable.
United States leadership in establishing this precedent is critical to international security, particularly to our allies in the region. Thank you for your consideration of this urgent matter.
Ted Deutch Member of Congress
Kennedy III Member of Congress
—Dec. 8, 2015, in a letter
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)
“Nobody should be surprised that Iran is already breaking the agreement. They never intended to follow the agreement. Iran knew that. The Obama administration knew that. Israel knew that. Everyone knew it. This is about a domestic objective for the Obama administration.”
Iran “will continue breaking the deal, using the millions of dollars the Obama administration is trying to send them, to fund radical Islamic terrorists across the globe who will murder innocent Americans, innocent Europeans, and innocent Israelis, and to accelerate their nuclear weapons development program.”
—Dec. 10, 2015, according to the Free Beacon
Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO)
“When the President was pursuing his misguided nuclear deal with Iran, many of us warned that Iran would cheat. We warned that Iran, the world’s largest state sponsor of terror, would take billions in sanctions relief while continuing to build up their arsenal, prop up the Assad regime, and arm terror groups dedicated to the destruction of Israel. Iran has done exactly that.
“The Obama Administration has been stunningly indifferent. Iran has violated U.N. travel sanctions by sending General Qassem Soleimani, a man responsible for the death of American troops in Iraq, on a visit to Russia. They’ve repeatedly violated U.N. resolutions prohibiting the testing of ballistic missiles, which could be topped with a nuclear warhead.
“The American people were told to trust that the Obama Administration could hold Iran accountable for bad behavior. Iran’s recent conduct, and the Administration’s lack of response, prove that the current U.S. policy of engagement with this murderous and deceitful regime is a dangerous farce. I have no confidence that Iran will abide by the terms of the nuclear deal reached this past summer.
“It’s time for the Administration to respond to Iranian belligerence. Inaction is no longer an option.”
—Dec. 8, 2015, in a statement
Rep. Scott Garrett (R-NJ)
“Despite the opposition of the American people and the majority of Congress, President Obama signed a dangerous nuclear deal with Iran. As predicted by myself and my colleagues, we have seen little-to-no change in Iran’s behavior as they continue to break international agreements. Yesterday, we learned that the Iranian regime tested a ballistic missile—the second they’ve tested since the deal was signed. This clearly violates U.N. security council resolutions, including the same U.N. resolution that endorsed the Iran deal. In addition to these tests, a recent IAEA report found that Iran has pursued nuclear weapons as recently as 2009.
“The administration cannot sit idly by as Iran continues to violate international agreements, and I call on them to take these violations seriously. It’s obvious that Iran has ambitions to create nuclear weapons, and therefore the United States should continue the economic sanctions that successfully brought this tyrannical regime to the negotiating table.  The safety and security of the United States and its allies is my top priority, and I will continue to fight to keep nuclear weapons out of Iran.”

—Dec. 8, 2015, in a statement


Tags: Congress

Bio and Timelines: Americans Held in Iran

Dec. 3, 2015, marked Jason Rezaian’s 500th day in prison. The Washington Post journalist has been held in Iran on charges including espionage. On Nov. 22, 2015, he was sentenced. But the Judiciary has not released any further details. “During these 500 days, Jason has been subjected to harsh interrogations, held in isolation for extended periods, denied adequate medical care, and afforded only a few perfunctory opportunities to speak with his defense lawyer,” according to The Post's Executive Editor Martin Baron
In addition to Rezaian, three other Iranian-Americans —Siamak Namazi, Amir Hekmati and Saeed Abedini —are detained in Iran. A fifth American, former FBI agent Robert Levinson, has been missing since 2007, when he was last sighted on an Iranian island. The State Department’s travel warning for Iran, updated in August 2015, warns that Iran’s “government does not recognize dual citizenship and will not allow the Swiss to provide protective services for U.S. citizens who are also Iranian nationals.”

President Hassan Rouhani indicated that Tehran might free the Americans held in Iran if Washington releases Iranians held in the United States. "If the Americans take the appropriate steps and set them free, certainly the right environment will be open and the right circumstances will be created for us to do everything within our power and our purview to bring about the swiftest freedom for the Americans held in Iran as well," Rouhani told CNN on Sept. 27, 2015, when he was in New York for the U.N. General Assembly.

Iranian officials deny it would be a swap, labeling the exchange a humanitarian gesture by both countries. “I don’t particularly like the word exchange, but from a humanitarian perspective, if we can take a step, we must do it,” Rouhani told CBS’s "60 Minutes."
On Oct. 29, 2015, Secretary of State John Kerry raised the cases of detained and missing U.S. citizens in Iran during a bilateral with Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. The two were in Vienna to attend peace talks on Syria and were meeting to discuss implementation of the nuclear deal.  
The following is a rundown of the American prisoners, followed by quotes from U.S. officials on their release.

Jason Rezaian
Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian was detained on July 22, 2014. On Oct. 7, 2015 he reached 444 days in detention – the same amount of time U.S. hostages were held at the U.S. embassy in Tehran from 1979 to 1981. Charges against him include espionage, “collaborating with hostile governments,” and “propaganda against the establishment.” The indictment specifically cited writing to President Obama. According to Iranian press reports, Rezaian allegedly applied for a job with the administration. He reportedly wrote to Obama, “In Iran, I’m in contact with simple laborers to influential mullahs.”
On May 26, 2014, Rezaian went on trial in Tehran’s Revolutionary Court, which handles national security cases. He denied the charges against him “I carried out all my activities legally and as a journalist,” he saidIn a press conference on Oct. 11, 2015, Judiciary spokesman Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejei confirmed that Rezaian had been found guilty but did not provide details on his sentence or the spefic charges on which he was convicted. Rezaian’s family and colleagues strongly condemned the conviction. The Post's Executive Editor Martin Baron said that “Any fair and just review would quickly overturn this unfounded verdict.” On Nov. 22, 2015, Iran's state news agency announced that Rezaian was sentenced. But the Mohseni-Ejei said he could not reveal further details. 
On Christmas Day 2015, Rezaian’s wife and mother were allowed to visit. “This is the first time in the year that I have been visiting him in Evin Prison that I could spend an extended time there and bring him his first home-cooked meal in months,” his mother, Mary Rezaian, said in an email to The Washington Post 
Rezaian is a dual U.S.-Iranian citizen. His father moved to the United States from Iran in 1959, and his mother was from Chicago. Jason was born in California in 1976. He moved to Iran to work as a journalist in 2008, and became The Post’s Tehran correspondent in 2012. Rezaian’s Iranian wife, Yaganeh Salehi, a correspondent for the Emirates-based paper The National, was also detained in 2014. She was released 10 weeks later, but the case has not formally been dismissed.
The following website and social media accounts are dedicated to Rezaian’s release.
Twitter account: @FreeJasonYegi
Siamak Namazi
Dubai-based businessman Siamak Namazi was reportedly arrested around Oct. 15, 2015. The detention of Crescent Petroleum’s head of strategic planning has not been officially confirmed, nor have any details regarding any charges brought against him. He was arrested just days before the Oct. 18, 2015 Adoption Day of the Iran nuclear deal. 
Namazi is the son of a former governor of the oil-rich province of Khuzestan in western Iran, according to The Washington Post. His family came to the United States in 1983 when he was a boy. He became a U.S. citizen in 1993. After graduating from college, Namazi returned to Iran for military service, which is compulsory there. From 1994 to 1996, he worked as a duty officer with the Ministry of Housing and Urban Planning in Tehran.
In 1998, Namazi founded Future Alliance International, a Washington D.C.-based consulting company focused on the risk of doing business in Iran. He came to see Iranian-Americans as a potential asset to his home country. “The new generation must be made to feel that no matter how much time elapses they will be welcomed and treated with respect in the land of their parents,” he wrote in 1998 for The Iranian. He suggested that Iran’s recognition of dual citizenship would be a good first step. “Iranian-Americans are a formidable force in helping mend the bridge between Iran and the United States,” he stated in a 1999 co-authored paper.
Namazi later worked as Managing Director at a family consulting founded in Tehran that later moved to Dubai, the Atieh Group. In 2005, he was a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. He also did a stint at the National Endowment for Democracy in 2006. He then worked for a few different energy consulting groups in Dubai. In 2013, Namazi warned that sanctions unintentionally created shortages of life-saving medical supplies and drugs in Iran. He was General Manager of Access Consulting Group, a Dubai-based consultancy focused on energy, before moving on to his most recent position at Crescent Petroleum. Namazi holds degrees from the London Business School and from Rutgers and Tufts Universities.  
Amir Hekmati
Amir Hekmati was arrested in August 2011 while visiting his grandmother in Iran. He was charged with espionage, waging war against God, and corrupting the earth. In January 2012, he was convicted and sentenced to death. He was the first American to receive the death sentence in Iran since the revolution. But in March 2012, a retrial overturned the espionage conviction and instead charged him with “cooperating with hostile governments.” He was sentenced to 10 years in prison.  

On Dec. 30, 2015, Tasnim news agency reported that prison officials were considering a conditional release of Hekmati for good conduct. His lawyer, Mahmoud Alizadeh Tabatabaei told the outlet that he was eligible for probation under Iranian law. In January 2016, Hekmati’s family said that he was allowed to receive medical treatment outside of prison. He was escorted from Evin Prison to hospital for medical tests, including a CT scan, due to a lymph node swelling in his face and neck. 
Hekmati is a former U.S. Marine and a dual U.S.-Iranian citizen. His parents were born in Iran. Hekmati was born in Flagstaff, Arizona in 1983 and grew up in Nebraska and Michigan. He served in the Marines from 2001 to 2005, including a six-month deployment to Iraq. He later worked as a government contractor doing linguistic and translation work.
In January 2016, Congressman Dan Kildee, whose constituents include the Hekmati family, implored President Obama to mention Amir Hekmati by name during his State of the Union address. Kildee said he would have Sarah Hekmati, Amir’s sister, to be his guest at the address. “Amir Hekmati has been unjustly held in Iran for nearly 1,600 days. It is long past time for Iran to release him so he can be reunited with his family in Michigan,” Congressman Kildee said. “Having Sarah join me at the State of the Union will serve as an important reminder of Amir’s continued imprisonment and the pain their family continues to endure. We continue to press for his release and do everything we can to bring him home.”
The following website and social media accounts are dedicated to Hekmati’s release.
Saeed Abedini
Rev. Saeed Abedini was detained on July 28, 2012, and initially imprisoned in September 2012. He had been in Iran to visit family and construct orphanages in partnership with Iranian Christians. His closed trial was held on Jan. 22, 2013. He was convicted and sentenced to eight years in prison, reportedly for “undermining national security.”
Abedini was born in Iran in 1980 and later converted to Christianity. In 2002, he met his future wife Naghmeh, a U.S. citizen of Iranian descent who was visiting Iran. The couple played a prominent role in establishing 100 underground churches in Iran for 2,000 Christian converts. Iranian Muslims who convert to Christianity are not allowed to worship in established churches, although Christianity is legal in Iran and the constitution stipulates proportionate representation in parliament for various Christian minorities. Under pressure from the regime, the couple moved to the United States in 2005.
Abedini was ordained as a minister in 2008. During a trip to Iran in 2009, authorities reportedly threatened him with death for his conversion to Christianity and told him he could only return to Iran if he ceased his underground church activities. He became a naturalized U.S. citizen through marriage in 2010. Between 2009 and 2012, he traveled to and from Iran eight times before his 2012 detention on his ninth trip. His family in Tehran has periodically been allowed to visit him in prison, but he has not been permitted to contact his wife and two children in the United States.
The following websites and social media accounts are dedicated to Abedini’s release.
Twitter: @SaveSaeed

Robert Levinson
Former FBI agent Robert Levinson went missing on March 9, 2007, during a visit to Kish Island. Initial reports indicated that he was researching a cigarette smuggling case as a private investigator. "He's a private citizen involved in private business in Iran," the State Department said in 2007. In 2013, the Associated Press reported that he had been working on a private contract for U.S. intelligence.
Iran has denied knowing his status or location. In December 2011, Levinson’s family released statement he had taped a year earlier. In January 2013, his family released recent photos of him, and they acknowledged in late 2013 that his visit to Kish Island was partly related to his contract work for the CIA.
Levinson is an American citizen who was born in Flushing, New York in 1948. He served in the FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration for 28 years, where he focused on investigating organized crime in Russia. He retired from the FBI in 1998 and began working as a private investigator. He has seven children.
Statements from U.S. officials
President Barack Obama
On March 20, 2015, President Barack Obama issued the following statement on U.S. citizens detained or missing in Iran for the occasion of Nowruz, Persian New Year.
The spirit of family is deeply woven into all of the rich cultural traditions of the Nowruz holiday.  It is a time for reuniting and rejoicing with loved ones and sharing hopes for the new year.  Today, as families across the world gather to mark this holiday, we remember those American families who are enduring painful separations from their loved ones who are imprisoned or went missing in Iran.
Saeed Abedini of Boise, Idaho has spent two and a half years detained in Iran on charges related to his religious beliefs.  He must be returned to his wife and two young children, who needlessly continue to grow up without their father.
Amir Hekmati of Flint, Michigan has been imprisoned in Iran on false espionage charges for over three and a half years.  His family, including his father who is gravely ill, has borne the pain of Amir's absence for far too long.
Jason Rezaian of Marin County, California, an Iranian government credentialed reporter for the Washington Post, has been unjustly held in Iran for nearly eight months on vague charges.  It is especially painful that on a holiday centered on ridding one’s self of the difficulties of the past year, Jason’s mother and family will continue to carry the heavy burden of concern regarding Jason’s health and well-being into the new year.
And finally, we recently marked yet another anniversary since Robert Levinson went missing on Kish Island.   His family has now endured the hardship of his disappearance for over eight years.
At this time of renewal, compassion, and understanding, I reiterate my commitment to bringing our citizens home and call on the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to immediately release Saeed Abedini, Amir Hekmati and Jason Rezaian and to work cooperatively with us to find Robert Levinson so that they all can be safely reunited with their families as soon as possible.  
In honor of the familial spirit so strongly enshrined within this holiday and for the Abedini, Hekmati, Rezaian, and Levinson families, I hope this new spring is filled with joyous moments for us all with all of our loved ones by our sides.

Secretary of State John Kerry
On Aug. 28, 2015, Secretary of State John Kerry released a statement marking the four-year anniversary of U.S. citizen Amir Hekmati’s detention in Iran. 
This Saturday marks the four-year anniversary of U.S. citizen Amir Hekmati’s detention on false espionage charges while visiting his relatives in Iran.
We repeat our call on the Iranian government to release Amir on humanitarian grounds. The Hekmati family needs Amir - their brother, their son, their uncle - to be home where he belongs. 
This is a milestone no family wants to mark, and the Hekmati family has shown inspiring perseverance in the face of this injustice. And as befits a former Marine, Amir has shown tremendous courage in the face of this unjust detention.    
As President Obama said recently in his speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, we are not going to relent until we bring Amir home. I join the President in his steadfast commitment to reunite Amir with his family.   
We also call on the government ‎of Iran to release Saeed Abedini and Jason Rezaian, and to work cooperatively with us to locate Robert Levinson, so that all can be returned to their families.
On Aug. 29, 2014, Secretary of State John Kerry called on Tehran to release three U.S. citizens detained in Iran and one that went missing on Iranian soil.
The Unites States respectfully calls on the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to release Amir Hekmati, Saeed Abedini, and Jason Rezaian to their families and work cooperatively with us to find Robert Levinson and bring him home.
Today marks the three-year anniversary of U.S. citizen Amir Hekmati’s detention on false espionage charges while visiting his family in Iran.  Mr. Hekmati is the eldest son; he has long been separated from his family and they need him home.
Mr. Levinson went missing in March 2007 on Kish Island.  His family has endured years of painful separation and worry.  We are immensely concerned about his well-being and whereabouts.
On September 26, Mr. Abedini will have been detained for two years in Iran, on charges related to his religious beliefs.  Mrs. Abedini has spoken eloquently about the difficulties her family has faced during this challenging time.
Mr. Rezaian, a reporter for the Washington Post, is being detained in an unknown location.  His love of Iran is seen in his reporting – portraits of the generosity and kindness of the Iranian people.
The United States remains committed to returning all of them to their families, friends, and loved ones.  We ask the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to immediately release Amir Hekmati, Saeed Abedini, and Jason Rezaian and respectfully request the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran work cooperatively with us to find Mr. Levinson and bring him home.
On May 11, 2015, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed a resolution calling on Iran to immediately release the detained and missing Americans. Concurrent Resolution 16 passed 90-0. On June 15, the House of Representatives unanimously passed a similar resolution, introduced by Dan Kildee (D-MI), who represents the Hekmati family in Congress.
Resolved by the Senate (the House of Representatives concurring),
(a) Findings- Congress makes the following findings:
(1) Saeed Abedini of Idaho is a Christian pastor unjustly detained in Iran since 2012 and sentenced to eight years in prison on charges related to his religious beliefs.
(2) Amir Hekmati of Michigan is a former United States Marine unjustly detained in 2011 while visiting his Iranian relatives and sentenced to 10 years in prison for espionage.
(3) Jason Rezaian of California is a Washington Post journalist credentialed by the Government of Iran. He was unjustly detained in 2014 and has been held without a trial.
(4) Robert Levinson of Florida is a former Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) official who disappeared in 2007 in Iran. He is the longest held United States citizen in United States history.
(b) Statement of Policy- It is the policy of the United States that--
(1) the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran should immediately release Saeed Abedini, Amir Hekmati, and Jason Rezaian, and cooperate with the United States Government to locate and return Robert Levinson; and
(2) the United States Government should undertake every effort using every diplomatic tool at its disposal to secure their immediate release.
Deputy State Department Spokesman Jeff Rathke
“We’re aware of reports that U.S. citizen Jason Rezaian’s trial has begun in Iran. We continue to monitor this as closely as possible, and we continue to call for all of the absurd charges to be dropped and for Jason Rezaian to be released immediately.”
“You asked about the closed nature of the trial….It certainly adds to our concerns and it fits, unfortunately, into a pattern of a complete lack of transparency and the lack of due process that we’ve seen since Jason Rezaian was first detained. So while we call for his trial to be open, we also maintain that he should never have been detained or put on trial in the first place.
Now, you asked about contacts as well. We always raise the cases of detained and missing U.S. citizens with Iranian officials on the sidelines of the P5+1 talks and the other interactions that happen in that context, and we will continue to do that until all of them are home.”
“We call on the Iranian authorities to release Jason Rezaian immediately. This is independent of the nuclear negotiations. We also call for the release of Saeed Abedini and Amir Hekmati, as well as for Iran to cooperate in locating Robert Levinson, so that they can all be returned to their families.”
“The charges against Jason Rezaian are absurd. They should be dropped; he should be released.”
—May 26, 2015, according to the press

Statement by Congressman Dan Kildee on Veterans Day, Amir Hekmati Continued Imprisonment in Iran
“Today we thank and honor those who have worn the uniform to protect and defend the United States. I hope that today we also do not forget one veteran in particular, Amir Hekmati, who continues to be unjustly held in Iran for his service to our country.
“For Amir, Veterans Day is once again marked behind bars of a prison cell on the other side of the world. He has been separated from his family for over four years and has had to endure unimaginable conditions. Yet despite being the longest held political prisoner in Iran, Amir continues to show incredible resolve in the face of prolonged injustice. He is innocent and has suffered enough. It is time for him to come home to Michigan.
“Not a day goes by that I don’t think about Amir Hekmati and his service to our country.
“If Iran wants to taken seriously in the global community, it cannot hold political prisoners like Amir Hekmati. Congress and the world are watching Iran’s actions. It must release Amir and the other innocent Americans it is holding.”
Nov. 10, 2015 in a statement
Photo credits: Hassan Rouhani by Robin Wright, Jason Rezaian, Amir Hekmati, Saeed Abedini, and Robert Levinson via Facebook


Nuclear Deal Implementation Day

Daryl G. Kimball
What is Implementation Day? And what does it mean?
The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) concluded by Iran and the world’s six major powers — Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States — plus the European Union on July 14, 2015 requires Iran to take four major steps that will set back its capacity to produce material for nuclear weapons. Before the JCPOA is formally implemented, Iran must:
  1. Significantly reduce its enriched uranium stockpile;
  2. Cut and cap its capacity to enrich uranium;
  3. Radically modify the Arak heavy water reactor to block its ability to produce plutonium, and
  4. Allow for a much more robust system of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) monitoring to ensure that Iran meets the requirements of the agreement over the life of the JCPOA and beyond. 
These steps will increase Iran’s potential “breakout” timeframe – the amount of time it would take to amass enough bomb-grade material for one weapon – from as little as two months (as was the case before the JCPOA was brokered) to more than a year.
Implementation Day will be triggered when the IAEA certifies that Iran has taken the key steps to restrict its nuclear program and has put in place the increased monitoring capabilities mandated by the JCPOA. Key U.S., E.U., and U.N. nuclear-related sanctions against Iran are to be lifted. After that point, the JCPOA will set additional limits and requirements on Iran’s nuclear program.
What steps did Iran have to take to get to this juncture?
To reach the implementation stage, Iran had to verifiably dismantle and store under IAEA seal more than 13,000 centrifuge machines, including its more advanced centrifuges, leaving Tehran with 6,104 first-generation IR-1 machines, of which 5,104 will be allowed to continue to enrich uranium to low levels (3.67 percent U-235) for energy production purposes. The remaining 1,044 centrifuges will be at the Fordo site, which can only be used for medical isotope production.
Iran’s uranium enrichment will be capped at these levels for 10 years, after which the two sides have agreed that Iran’s uranium enrichment capacity shall remain constant for several years. But advanced machines can be slowly phased in to replace the IR-1s.
The JCPOA also required Iran to ship to Russia over 8.5 tons of all forms of low enriched uranium material, leaving Iran with a working stockpile of just 300 kilograms of uranium enriched to no more than 3.67 percent U-235— far less than what is necessary to enrich further for one bomb. The stockpile cap and prohibition on enrichment above 3.67 percent will remain in place for the next 15 years.
Additionally, Iran was required to remove the core of the Arak reactor and fill the channels with cement, rendering it inoperable. The world’s six major powers, also known as the EU3+3 or P5+1, worked with Iran on a new design, which will optimize medical isotope production. The changes will also significantly lower the output of weapons-grade plutonium to less than one kilogram per year—far below the amount necessary for one weapon. China agreed to provide technical support to modify the reactor, and the United States reviewed and approved the modified design.
Implementation of the JCPOA also required the IAEA’s monitoring and inspections authority to be strengthened, in addition to the standard IAEA monitoring already in place. This includes the implementation of Iran’s Additional Protocol agreement with the IAEA, which gives the U.N. nuclear watchdog short-notice access to virtually any site the agency believes may be involved in illicit nuclear activities, even military facilities. Iran was also required to implement Code 3.1 of Iran’s existing comprehensive safeguards agreement, which requires earlier notification of nuclear activities and facility design changes. 
In addition, Iran had to begin allowing continuous IAEA monitoring of enrichment activities at the Natanz and the Fordo facilities and centrifuge production. The monitoring will continue for 20 years. Iran also had to allow the IAEA to begin continuous monitoring of all of its uranium mines and mills, a requirement that will last for 25 years.
Together, these measures ensure that if Iran were to pursue a covert nuclear weapons program, it would need to replicate its entire nuclear supply chain to get the necessary fissile material while evading IAEA monitoring and detection by foreign intelligence. While no single element of the monitoring regime offers a 100 percent guarantee against cheating, this multilayered approach provides high confidence that Iran cannot deviate from the restrictions under the deal without prompt detection.  
What steps are the United States, the European Union, and the United Nations required to take now?
When the IAEA verifies that Iran has met all of the requirements necessary to trigger the implementation phase, the United States, the European Union, and the U.N. Security Council will start to unravel the nuclear-related sanctions regime. These steps include the following:
  • The European Union will adopt a regulation terminating a previous decision that imposed nuclear-related sanctions.
  • The United States will issue waivers to go into effect on implementation day lifting nuclear-related sanctions and terminating executive orders on nuclear-related issues.
  • U.N. nuclear-related sanctions will be terminated as well, but subject to re-imposition in the event of noncompliance. A U.N. Security Council-mandated heavy arms embargo and ballistic missile restrictions will remain in place for five and eight years, respectively.  
Pre-2015 U.N. Security Council sanctions will be subject to prompt re-imposition in the event of noncompliance for 10 years. The United States and European Union can also choose to reinstate sanctions in the event of noncompliance. 

What are Iran’s primary obligations under the nuclear deal after implementation?
Following Implementation Day, Iran will be subject to further, multi-year restrictions to ensure it cannot reconstitute its capacity to produce bomb-grade nuclear material to pre-JCPOA levels for well over a decade, and perhaps longer.
These restrictions include:
  • For 10 years: a limit of 5,060 operational first-generation centrifuges and very limited research and development on more advanced machines;
  • For 13 years: an overall cap (at the Implementation Day level) on Iran’s uranium enrichment capacity;
  • For 15 years: a limit of 300 kilograms of low-enriched uranium; a ban on uranium enrichment beyond 3.67 percent; a ban on uranium enrichment at the underground Fordo site; a ban on heavy water reactors and spent fuel reprocessing; special IAEA access to suspect sites within 24 hours;
  • For 20 years: continuous IAEA monitoring of centrifuge manufacturing sites;
  • For 25 years: continuous IAEA monitoring of uranium mines and mills;
  • Indefinitely: IAEA monitoring under the terms of the additional protocol; a permanent ban on any activities that could contribute to the design or development of nuclear weapons.
What are the next milestones, and when might they occur?
The IAEA will report on a quarterly basis on Iran’s program to ensure compliance. The first report following implementation, due this spring, will likely deliver an enormously more detailed set of data on Iran’s program. Iran will begin work to build the modified Arak reactor later this year. A special procurement channel to facilitate declared, peaceful Iranian nuclear activities and head off access to prohibited nuclear technology will be put into place this spring. The lifting of nuclear-related sanctions relief may open the way to greater trade and foreign investment in Iran by mid- to late-2016. No later than eight years after Implementation Day, Iran must also ratify its additional protocol agreement with the IAEA. Sometime after that point, the IAEA may deliver its broader conclusion about whether Iran’s nuclear program is exclusively peaceful – or not.

What are the hurdles or obstacles ahead?
Undoubtedly, there will be disputes regarding implementation of the JCPOA by both sides. To deal with these issues, the JCPOA established a Joint Commission comprised of eight members, one from each of the six countries of the EU3+3, plus the European Union, and Iran. In addition to overseeing the procurement channel and disputes over IAEA access to suspect sites, the Joint Commission will serve as a dispute resolution body if there are concerns about material breaches of the agreement by either side. It also will approve or delay certain activities that may not comply with the terms of the agreement. Each dispute will test the commitment of each side to meeting and enforcing the terms of the agreement.
If the U.S. Congress votes to reauthorize the Iran Sanctions Act – which would give the president authority to more quickly re-impose nuclear-related U.S. sanctions - this could trigger a reaction from Iran and an escalating series of retaliatory measures by each side that could undermine the agreement.
The JCPOA promises to remove the threat of Iranian nuclear weapons from the Middle East equation, but its success requires continuing focus and commitment by both sides.

Daryl G. Kimball is the Executive Director of the Arms Control Association.  


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Kerry on Foreign Policy Agenda for 2016

On January 13, Secretary of State John Kerry highlighted implementation of the Iran nuclear deal as a top foreign policy priority for 2016. “Implementation day, which is the day on which Iran proves that it has sufficiently downsized its nuclear program and can begin to receive sanctions relief, is going to take place very soon – likely within the next coming days somewhere,” he said at the National Defense University. Kerry also noted that Iran has played a positive role in the Syrian peace process, another U.S. priority. The following are Iran-related excerpts from his speech at the National Defense University.
Nuclear Deal
Now, obviously, in some respects, 2015 was a year of turbulence and tragedy. But the fact is we also saw and measured remarkable advances in every single corner of the globe. We witnessed barriers that have long divided nations begin to break down. We reached historic agreements on climate change, the Iran nuclear program, trade. We made progress on issues that have seemed intractable for years, and in some cases decades. We hadn’t talked to the Iranians in 35 years. We are working, making progress in various sectors of economic diplomacy as well as straightforward security diplomacy. …
Now, in addition to our efforts in Syria and Iraq, another major priority for the coming year involves Iran and the implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action that we agreed on last summer in Vienna.
The JCPOA, as it is called, is a blueprint for blocking all of Iran’s potential pathways to a nuclear weapon. As agreed, Iran is now well on its way to dismantling – dismantling – critical elements of its nuclear facilities. Just yesterday the foreign minister reported to me that the calandria of the plutonium nuclear reactor is now out. And in the next hours it will be filled with concrete and destroyed. All of their enriched material has been put on a ship and taken out and gone to Russia for processing. That shipment that was taken out in one day more than tripled our previous timeline of two to three months for Iran to be able to acquire enough weapons-grade uranium for one weapon, and it is an important part of the technical equation that will bring the breakout time to at least one year for the next ten years.
In the meantime, the IAEA will build up its capacity to inspect, to know what Iran is doing. And for 25 years we will be tracking every bit of uranium that is processed, from the mine to the mill to the gas to the yellow cake to the centrifuge and into the waste. And for the lifetime of this agreement, Iran is subject to the Additional Protocol, which means that where there is a suspicion of some activity that is contravention of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, we will have the right to inspect.
I can assure you we will continue to monitor implementation of this agreement closely, because yes, existential challenges are at stake here. And we will ensure that the specter of a nuclear-armed Iran is removed as a threat to the Middle East security and global peace, and it is not insignificant that Iran has agreed to submit to this, agreed to undertake these steps, agreed that it will not build this weapon. Implementation day, which is the day on which Iran proves that it has sufficiently downsized its nuclear program and can begin to receive sanctions relief, is going to take place very soon – likely within the next coming days somewhere. And when that happens, we are convinced it will make us and our partners around the world more safe and secure.
Syrian Peace Process
Last November in Vienna, the United States and other members of the International Syria Support Group finally agreed upon a series of specific steps to stop the bleeding in Syria, to advance the political transition, to isolate the terrorists, and to help the Syrian people begin to rebuild their country.
Now, I can’t stand here before you today and tell you this is going to work. I know how it could, but it’s going to require the cooperation of countries in conflict. It was monumental that we were able to bring Saudi Arabia and Iran to the table together in order to join in this, and it is important that both have said they will not allow their current differences to stand in the way of working towards a settlement.
In December, we and the other members of the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution endorsing the work of the Vienna support group, the International Syria Support Group, bringing the full weight of the global community behind this process.
So for the first time, every one of the major international players has come around a table together with a specific timetable for negotiations between the responsible opposition and Syria’s government. And because of the hard work of all of those parties, those talks are now slated to begin later this month, on January 25th.
It will be difficult. It will require good-faith effort by Russia, Iran, by all the players to push for the implementation of the Geneva communique, which calls for a transition unity government. But it is not to be missed by anybody here that even Iran put forward an important contribution to the dialogue in a peace plan that called for a unity government, constitutional reform, a ceasefire, and an election. And that is part of what has been embraced by the Vienna support group.
U.S. Sailors
I want to underscore how pleased I am that our sailors were safely returned into United States hands this morning.
As a former sailor myself, as the general mentioned, I know as well as anybody how important our naval presence is around the world, and certainly in the Gulf region, and I could not be – and I know the President could not be prouder of our men and women in uniform. I also want to thank the Iranian authorities for their cooperation and quick response. These are always situations which, as everybody here knows, have an ability, if not properly guided, to get out of control. And I’m appreciative for the quick and appropriate response of the Iranian authorities. All indications suggest or tell us that our sailors were well taken care of, provided with blankets and food and assisted with their return to the fleet earlier today. And I think we can all imagine how a similar situation might have played out three or four years ago and, in fact, it is clear that today this kind of issue was able to be peacefully resolved and efficiently resolved, and that is a testament to the critical role that diplomacy plays in keeping our country safe, secure, and strong.

Click here for the full text.  


US Sailor Flap: Model for Diplomacy?

On January 13, U.S. sailors detained by Iran were safely released to the U.S. Navy after an overnight flurry of diplomatic efforts. Unlike the 2007 crisis over 15 British sailors, the United States and Iran resolved the matter quickly, which was sparked when 10 U.S. sailors in two navy boats strayed into Iranian waters. Both countries indicated that recent diplomatic contacts had helped to secure the swift release of the sailors. Secretary of State John Kerry expressed gratitude to Iranian authorities for their cooperation. 
On January 12, Iranian military forces seized two U.S. Navy vessels and held them on Iran’s Farsi Island in the Persian Gulf. Nine men and one woman were aboard the small riverine boats. Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said, “We have been in contact with Iran and have received assurances that the crew and the vessels will be returned promptly.”
Secretary of State John Kerry “personally engaged with [Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad] Zarif to try to get to this outcome,” a senior U.S. official told The Associated Press. Kerry called his counterpart immediately after receiving news of the incident. Kerry and Zarif spoke at least five times. The two forged a close working relationship during 18 months of difficult negotiations that resulted in a final nuclear deal in July 2015.
U.S. officials told NBC News the ships were on a training mission around noon when one boat had mechanical difficulties and drifted into Iranian-claimed waters. The Iranian Coast guard took the boats and crew into custody. The vessels were about 1.2 miles inside Iranian territorial waters, and the crew included nine men and one woman, according to Fars News, which is widely thought to be linked to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.
A senior Obama administration official told Politico’s Michael Crowley that there was “absolutely nothing to indicate this was anything hostile on the part of any entity in Iran.” The official added that the nuclear deal between Iran and the world’s six major powers has created better relations which allow for peaceful and prompt resolution of situations like this one.  
Iranian media and state television published pictures and video of the sailors being detained and later eating Iranian food. In an interview with state television, one sailor apologized for entering Iranian waters and thanked the Iranians for their hospitality and “fantastic” behavior.
Early on January 13, the sailors departed Farsi Island on the two boats, escorted by Iranian forces. They were given medical exams aboard the U.S.S. Anzio and later transferred to Bahrain. Other sailors took command of the boats and continued transiting to Bahrain, the boats’ original destination. “There are no indications that the Sailors were harmed during their brief detention,” according to the U.S. Navy's statement.

This episode follows a December 26 incident in which an Iranian military vessel fired several unguided rockers near the U.S. aircraft carrier Harry S. Truman, the U.S. destroyer Bulkeley, a French frigate, and commercial craft. Iranian and U.S. naval forces have had sporadic and sometimes hostile interactions since the 1980s.
Click here for a chronology of U.S.-Iran encounters in the Gulf since the 1980s. 
The following are remarks by U.S. and Iranian officials on the incident.
United States
Secretary of State John Kerry
I'm very pleased that our Sailors have been safely returned to U.S. hands. 
As a former Sailor myself, I know the importance of naval presence around the world and the critical work being done by our Navy in the Gulf region. I'm proud of our young men and women in uniform and know how seriously they take their responsibilities to one another and to other mariners in distress. 
I want to express my gratitude to Iranian authorities for their cooperation ‎in swiftly resolving this matter. 
That this issue was resolved peacefully and efficiently is a testament to the critical role diplomacy plays in keeping our country safe, secure, and strong. 
—Jan. 16, 2016, in a statement
As a former sailor myself, as the general mentioned, I know as well as anybody how important our naval presence is around the world, and certainly in the Gulf region, and I could not be – and I know the President could not be prouder of our men and women in uniform. I also want to thank the Iranian authorities for their cooperation and quick response. These are always situations which, as everybody here knows, have an ability, if not properly guided, to get out of control. And I’m appreciative for the quick and appropriate response of the Iranian authorities. All indications suggest or tell us that our sailors were well taken care of, provided with blankets and food and assisted with their return to the fleet earlier today. And I think we can all imagine how a similar situation might have played out three or four years ago and, in fact, it is clear that today this kind of issue was able to be peacefully resolved and efficiently resolved, and that is a testament to the critical role that diplomacy plays in keeping our country safe, secure, and strong. 
—Jan. 16, 2016, in remarks at National Defense University
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter
I am pleased that ten U.S. Navy sailors have departed Iran and are now back in U.S. hands. I want to personally thank Secretary of State John Kerry for his diplomatic engagement with Iran to secure our sailors' swift return. Around the world, the U.S. Navy routinely provides assistance to foreign sailors in distress, and we appreciate the timely way in which this situation was resolved. 
Vice President Joe Biden
“When you have a problem with the boat, [do] you apologize the boat had a problem? No.”
“And there was no looking for any apology. This was just standard nautical practice.”
“The Iranians picked up both boats -- as we have picked up Iranian boats that needed to be rescued.”
Iranian officials “realized they were there in distress and said they would release them, and released them -- like ordinary nations would do.”
—Jan. 13, 2016, in an interview with “CBS This Morning 

State Department Briefing
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:   I’m just going to go through a little bit of the chronology of yesterday and provide a few of the substantive details, but then I’m happy to take some questions.
So we at the State Department learned about the incident right around mid-day, I think almost right at noon.  And the Secretary at that time was in the middle of a dialogue with Secretary Carter and their Filipino counterparts – a 2+2 meeting it’s called – which was taking place up on the eighth floor of the State Department, the sort of diplomatic rooms.
When we first heard the basics, we did some work to try to track down as much detail as we could, and then I went upstairs to brief the Secretary at around 12:30.  Secretary Carter was also just learning of this incident right around that time.  And the Secretary pretty quickly excused himself to come down to his office and begin making phone calls. 
Now, he had – and this illustrates one of the things that I think is interesting and important about this set of events – he had a scheduled call already with Foreign Minister Zarif for 12:45 – somewhere in the 12:45 to 1 o’clock range yesterday which is indicative of the fact – I mean, I think most people on this call know they speak relatively regularly.  None of this is that unusual anymore in the wake of the dialogue that we’ve had about nuclear issues.  So this call was already scheduled, but obviously, was going to take on a different nature and a different degree of importance.  Before the Secretary got on the phone with Zarif, he spoke with Chairman Dunford over at the Joint Chiefs and with Susan Rice, the National Security Advisor, to try to get a sense exactly of how much information we had about the incident. 
Now, the Secretary then got on the phone with Foreign Minister Zarif for the first time – I think the first of at least five phone calls they had during the course of that afternoon and evening – at about 1 o’clock in the afternoon.  The main message that he – there were a few messages he wanted to convey to the foreign minister.  One, to provide him with some information about our understanding of what had happened, which was not perfect but was sort of developing in real time.  And we had gathered some information including that the sailors were in transit at the time of the incident, that they were in transit between Kuwait and Bahrain, that they may have had some sort of mechanical problem – although at that point we weren’t sure – that we had lost communications with them, and that we had indications that they were now located on Farsi Island in the Gulf.
The Secretary made clear that our most important priority – and that this was critical – was that they be released, obviously, safely and unharmed and as quickly as possible, and that if we were able to do this – and this is something that he said to Zarif on a few occasions – if we are able to do this in the right way, we can make this into what will be a good story for both of us.
After that call – Foreign Minister Zarif said that he was just getting information about this himself, although he was aware of the incident – they agreed to continue looking into this and speak again later.  After that call, Secretary Carter, who was upstairs in the State Department continuing this dialogue, came down to the Secretary of State’s office on the seventh floor.  They continued to discuss developments with the National Security Advisor, with Chairman Dunford, continued to build our sort of understanding of the situation.
The Secretary called back Foreign Minister Zarif again around 2 o’clock in the afternoon and made clear that we would be ready to provide any information we could over the course of the coming hours and reiterated our both concern about the safety and well-being of the sailors and strong desire to get this incident resolved.  And Foreign Minister Zarif insisted that he was working on this, that he agreed with the imperative of getting this resolved as soon as possible.  And you may have questions about Zarif’s side of these conversations, but I’ll just tell you up front I’m not going to characterize too much of what Foreign Minister Zarif said.  We ask our foreign counterparts not to do that as well.
They spoke again, Secretary and Foreign Minister Zarif, around 3:00 p.m., maybe – actually, I think it was actually a little bit after 3:00 p.m., probably closer to 3:15.  And at that point, Foreign Minister Zarif said to the Secretary that he had indications from the people who were holding our sailors that they would be free to go at dawn, that it was probably not safe for them to transit during the course of the night in dark, that they had been fed, that they were being treated well – again, this is the information that we were receiving – and that all of this was proceeding as they had been discussing during the course of the afternoon.  The Secretary conveyed this information to the White House, and obviously to Chairman Dunford and the Pentagon as well. 
At that point, they basically just agreed to stay in touch.  The Secretary was not going to be the one working out the details of any transfer that took place.  I think DOD has talked about how they have a channel of communication between our naval personnel operating over there and Iranian authorities.  The details of what took place is not something I can speak to and was sort of coordinated from that point in that military channel, not diplomatically. 
The Secretary and Foreign Minister Zarif spoke again after the State of the Union last night.  Secretary wanted to check in and make sure that all indications remained that this was on track.  And Foreign Minister Zarif assured him that everything he knew suggested that it was.  This was around, again, 10:30 p.m. here.  I think Iran is about eight hours ahead.  And then – you should get this information from DOD – but my understanding is somewhere around 3:45 in the morning our time here, this transfer took place; the sailors departed the island and were picked up by the Navy.
But I just – some other just quick points before I turn it over.  I’ve seen reports – I guess I’ve seen various reports about the subject of whether the U.S. Government apologized to the Government of Iran.  I can say unequivocally that the U.S. Government did not apologize to the Government of Iran in any way during the course of this.  We did provide context.  We did explain that this was basically a routine transit mission, that it had no way – had in no way intended to end up anywhere on Farsi Island or in Iranian territorial waters. 
I would add that we have no indication, but these conversations are sort of ongoing, as we learn more and debrief the sailors involved, that our sailors were mistreated.  And I just wanted to underscore the point I made at the beginning that had this happened three years ago – and you can point to sort of similar incidents in which – that we’re aware of in which British and other sailors have run into problems like this in the Gulf with the Government of Iran and with the Iranian military – had this happened a few years ago before we had this very direct line of communication at a very senior level of our government, it undoubtedly would have been much more complicated to unwind, would undoubtedly have taken longer and risked all sorts of ancillary effects that would be unpredictable.
The fact that it was resolved peacefully, efficiently, and quickly really does speak to – and I think the Secretary said this at NDU in our statement – the importance of using these diplomatic tools to try to solve problems and using this opening that was provided by these ongoing conversations that we’ve had in the nuclear context.  And I will leave it at that.
QUESTION:  A couple things.  One is logistical.  You said five calls and I count four.  Maybe I’m wrong there.  12:45, 2:00, 3:15, and 10:30.  Is there another one?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  I think it was at least five, and I think it actually may have been more.  But a few of these were literally like a 30-second call, hang up, look for information, call right back afterwards.  What I gave you are the sort of main substantive data points that are relevant.  But I think it was probably more than five, but I know of at least five, and this was over a period of roughly 10 hours.
QUESTION:  You said that Kerry told Zarif that it would be a good story for both the United States and Iran.  I get the good story that Kerry is telling.  What’s the good story he had in mind for Iran?  And what – how exactly were the sailors picked up?  You said they were picked up – so they didn’t leave in their boats, and how did they get their boats back?  And --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  This may not be satisfying, but I’m going to leave all the details of that sort of thing to the Defense Department, which I know is still gathering information, debriefing the people involved.  And I don’t have much more to tell you than I’ve already said.
In terms of a good story, I won’t speak to how Iran will portray this or characterize their narrative of the situation, but I think what we had in mind, what the Secretary had in mind was that it would be a demonstration of them operating as a responsible maritime operation in the Gulf and a responsible nation that would deal with these things in a way that other responsible nations have in the past and would going forward.  I think it was an opportunity to demonstrate that they had the ability to cooperate and to be responsible when presented with a complicated situation like this.
QUESTION:  This may seem obvious, but I’d like to hear from you how much the Secretary was concerned in the back of his mind or in the front of his mind that this could degenerate into a larger incident that would derail implementation day of the Iran nuclear deal.  I understand they’re separate subjects but they could be linked. And also not just that, but also the broader detente with Iran.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  First and foremost, the Secretary’s concern, both as the U.S. Secretary of State and as a former member of the United States Navy, was with the safety and security of the people who were caught up in this incident, the American sailors.  But not just in the back of his mind, but I think foremost – at front of mind for everybody, including, I would suspect, on the Iranian side, was the concern, as I said early on, that there would be the risk of escalation and the spillover of this issue into other issues, including, no doubt, the nuclear situation.
QUESTION:  Now that the sailors are back, there’s been a video circulating of the sailors kneeling and with their hands behind their heads, under Iranian detention.  There’s another video circulating on Twitter that shows a sailor apologizing, which maybe was some sort of forced confession.  Is the U.S. looking into that as some sort of violation of if the Iranians went too far in questioning the Americans, and like, any comment to that footage?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  I have seen these.  I can’t speak to authenticity or anything like that, but I have certainly seen the videos.  As for whether or not this is sort of standard or some sort of violation, I would just – I would have to refer you to the Defense Department, which, again, is continuing to gather information both about the incident and would be best positioned to determine whether this is consistent with the way people are supposed to be treated in these situations.
QUESTION:  Was there any coordination in terms of how the two foreign ministers would announce the details of this?  There seemed to be some tweets timed around the same time.  And also, what does this say to you in terms of the status of the five American civilians who are still detained in Iran?  Does the fact that Zarif was able to follow through on what he said he was going to do in getting these sailors out give you any hope that the other Americans might be coming home soon?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  There was no coordination on public statements or tweets or anything like that, and I think I’ll just leave it at that.  Some of this, as I think you all know, started to break yesterday afternoon.  I think to some extent, our preference would have been to keep this as quiet as possible until people were back in our – our people were back in our custody, but it happened the way it often does and I think it was handled appropriately on both sides.
In terms of what impact this will have on other things or whether it gives greater confidence about anything else, I think it’s too soon to make an assessment like that.  I guess I would just reiterate that that’s an issue that is always a front-of-mind concern here.  It’s an issue we raise, as I think everyone here knows, in virtually every encounter we have with the Iranians and we remain strongly of the view that the Americans who are detained and missing there should be reunited with their families and brought home as soon as possible.
Islamic Revolutionary Guards Navy Commander Rear Admiral Ali Fadavi
“The USS Truman Aircraft carrier showed unprofessional moves for 40 minutes after the detention of the trespassers, while we were highly prepared with our coast-to-sea missiles, missile-launching speedboats and our numerous capabilities.”
“But we communicated an announcement through the international (radio) systems and prevented any further irresponsible moves by them. Then they came to realize the IRGC Navy has the first and the last word in here.”
“The US and France's aircraft carriers were within our range and if they had continued their unprofessional moves, they would have been afflicted with such a catastrophe that they had never experienced all throughout the history.”
“They could have been shot, and if they were, they would have been destroyed.”
“In the end they and their diplomats acknowledged their wrong action and undertook not to repeat such mistakes.”
“The US and its Navy, rest assured that they won't be the winner of any battle with Iran in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz as destruction and sinking of their warships will be the end result of any such war. But in those 40 minutes, the Americans were clearly under intense psychological pressure and they did not act like a professional and responsible force.”
—Jan. 13, 2016, according to Fars News
Revolutionary Guards
“Following technical and operational investigations and in interaction with relevant political and national security bodies of the country and after it became clear that the US combat vessels' illegal entry into the Islamic Republic of Iran's waters was the result of an unintentional action and a mistake and after they extended an apology, the decision was made to release them.”
“The Americans have undertaken not to repeat such mistakes. The captured marines were released in international waters under the supervision of the IRGC Navy moments ago.”
—Jan. 13, 2016, in a statement 
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hossein Jaberi Ansari
“After explanations the US gave and the assurances they made, we determined that violation of Iranian territorial waters was not deliberate, so we guided the boats out of Iranian waters.”
—Jan. 13, 2016, to the media via IRNA and Iran Front Page
The following is a preliminary timeline of events released by U.S. Central Command.

On Jan. 12, two NAVCENT Riverine Command Boat (RCB) crews were tasked with the mission of relocating two RCBs from Kuwait to Bahrain, with a planned refueling en route alongside the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Monomoy. The two RCBs were traveling together since they train and deploy in two-boat elements. They departed Kuwait at 9:23 a.m.(GMT). The planned transit path for the mission was down the middle of the Gulf and not through the territorial waters of any country other than Kuwait and Bahrain.

The two RCBs were scheduled to conduct an underway refueling with the USCGC Monomoy in international waters at approximately 2 p.m. (GMT). At approximately 2:10 p.m. (GMT) NAVCENT received a report that the RCBs were being queried by Iranians. At approximately 2:29 p.m. (GMT) NAVCENT was advised of degraded communications with the RCBs. 

At 2:45 p.m. (GMT) NAVCENT was notified of a total loss of communications with the RCBs. Immediately, NAVCENT initiated an intensive search and rescue operation using both air and naval assets including aircraft from USS Harry S. Truman and the U.S. Air Force, and U.S. Coast Guard, U.K. Royal Navy and U.S. Navy surface vessels. 

At the time of the incident, two carrier strike groups were operating nearby. USS Harry S. Truman carrier strike group was 45 miles southeast of Farsi Island and Charles de Gaulle carrier strike group was 40 miles north of Farsi Island. NAVCENT attempted to contact Iranian military units operating near Farsi Island by broadcasting information regarding their search and rescue effort over marine radio, and separately notified Iranian coast guard units via telephone about the search for their personnel. 
At 6:15 p.m. (GMT), U.S. Navy cruiser USS Anzio received a communication from the Iranians that the RCB Sailors were in Iranian custody and were "safe and healthy." 

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