United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

Congress Acts: Corker Bill on Iran

On April 14, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee unanimously approved a bill that would require Congress to review and then vote on a final nuclear deal with Iran. If the full Senate and House of Representatives approve the “Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015,” President Barack Obama would not be permitted to waive economic sanctions on Iran as part of a deal for at least 30 days during the initial review period.

“Despite opposition from the White House all along, I am proud of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s unanimous support of this bill that will ensure the American people – through their elected representatives – will have a voice on any final deal with Iran, if one is reached,” said Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Bob Corker (R-TN). For months, Corker has called for Congressional weigh-in, arguing that sanctions passed by lawmakers brought Iran to the negotiating table in the first place. He coauthored the legilsation with Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Tim Kaine (D-VA).
 
The White House initially threatened to veto the bill, arguing that curbing the president’s powers could negatively impact negotiations. But President Obama backed off after the review period was shortened and the committee dropped the requirement for the president to certify that Iran has not been supporting or carrying out terrorist attacks against the United States or its citizens. Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) played a key role in brokering the compromise between the Obama administration, Democrats and Republicans. The 19-0 vote suggested that the Senate likely has a veto-proof majority.
 
President Obama has stressed that he reserves the right to veto the bill if it is amended before passing the House and Senate. On April 28, the Senate rejected an amendment, introduced by Republican Senator Ron Johnson, that would have considered any nuclear deal a treaty requiring ratification by two thirds of the Senate.
 
The following is a summary of the bill released by Senator Corker’s office.
 
Congressional Review: Within five days of concluding a comprehensive agreement with Iran, the president must submit to Congress (1) the text of the agreement and all related materials, (2) a verification assessment on Iranian compliance, and (3) a certification that the agreement meets U.S. non-proliferation objectives and does not jeopardize U.S. national security, including not allowing Iran to pursue nuclear-related military activities.
 
No Suspension of Congressional Sanctions During Review Period: The president is prohibited from suspending, waiving or otherwise reducing congressional sanctions for up to 52 days after submitting the agreement to Congress. Following an initial review period of 30 days, the legislation includes an additional 12 if Congress passes a bill and sends it to the president. If the president vetoes the legislation, Congress would have an additional 10 days to override a veto. If the deal is submitted after July 9, the review period increases to 82 days (60 days plus 12 days for the president to veto and 10 more days for Congress to override a veto). During this period, Congress may hold hearings and approve, disapprove or take no action on the agreement. Passage of a joint resolution of disapproval (over a presidential veto) within the review period would block the president from implementing congressional sanctions relief under the agreement.
 
Congressional Oversight and Iranian Compliance: After the congressional review period, the president would be required to provide an assessment to Congress every 90 days on Iran’s compliance with the agreement. In the event the president cannot certify compliance, or if the president determines there has been a material breach of the agreement, Congress could vote, on an expedited basis, to restore sanctions that had been waived or suspended under the agreement. It also requires the president to make a series of detailed reports to Congress on a range of issues, including Iran’s nuclear program, its ballistic missiles work, and its support for terrorism globally, particularly against Americans and our allies. With this information, Congress will be able to determine the appropriate response in the event of Iran sponsoring an act of terrorism against Americans.
 
The legislation was coauthored by Senators Corker, Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Tim Kaine (D-Va.). Cosponsors of the bill include Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.), Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Bill Nelson (D- Fla.), Jim Risch (R-Idaho), Angus King (I-Maine), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Dean Heller (R-NV), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), and Ben Sasse (R-Neb.).
 
Click here for the full text of the bill.  
 

US Concerned About Russian Missile Deal

On April 13, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree lifting a ban on the sale of advanced S-300 air defense missile systems to Iran. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that the embargo was no longer necessary given progress in nuclear talks between Iran and the world’s six major powers.  “We believe that at this stage there is no longer need for this kind of embargo - from the Russian side it was unilateral and voluntary,” he said.

Tehran welcomed the move while Washington and Tel Aviv expressed concern.Given Iran’s destabilizing actions in the region in places like Yemen or Syria or Lebanon that this isn’t the time to be selling these kinds of systems to them,” State Department Spokesperson Marie Harf said.
 
Moscow originally imposed the ban and cancelled a $800 million contract to supply the systems to Iran in 2010 after it supported a U.N. Security Council resolution that imposed sanctions on Iran and restricted the arms trade. Iran hopes to receive the missile systems by the end of the year. But a top adviser to Putin told Interfax that delivery of the missile system “will take some time.” The timing for delivery “depends on our manufacturers. I think it will be a minimum of half a year to finish the work,” said Nikolai Patrushev. The following are excerpted remarks on the deal by Russian, Iranian, U.S. and Israeli officials.
 
Russia
 

 
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov
 
The world’s six major powers and Iran made “substantial progress in resolving the Iranian nuclear program [dispute]. The political framework of the final deal agreed upon was highly praised by the international community.”
 
“We believe that at this stage there is no longer need for this kind of embargo - from the Russian side it was unilateral and voluntary.”
 
“Meanwhile, a modern air defense system is now very relevant to Iran, especially taking into account the severe escalation of tensions in neighboring areas and especially the rapid development of military activity in Yemen in recent weeks.”
 
The system “will not put at risk the security of any state in the region, including Israel.”
—April 13, 2015 in a press conference
 
Iran
 
Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council Ali Shamkhani
 
“I hope that the anti-missile defense systems will be delivered by the end of the year and, naturally, as soon as the systems are delivered to Iran, the case [against Russia] will be dropped.”
 
“Great strategic possibilities exist in the relations between Russia and Iran.”
—April 14, 2015 according to Sputnik and Interfax
 
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif
 
“We welcome the right decision by President Putin to move forward... I think it is a step in the right direction and we are looking forward to expanding our relations.”
—April 14, 2015 at a press conference in Madrid, Spain
 
United States
 
State Department Spokesperson Marie Harf
 
MS HARF: Well, we’ve certainly made our concerns with the sale of the S-300 system to Iran known for some time.  This certainly isn’t new.  The Secretary raised those concerns in a call with Foreign Minister Lavrov this morning.  We don’t believe it’s constructive at this time for Russia to move forward with this, but we’ve worked very closely with the Russians on the P5+1 negotiations.  We don’t think this will have an impact on unity in terms of inside the negotiating room.  So they did discuss it, discussed the Iran negotiations in general as well, and I don’t have more of a readout for you than that.
 
QUESTION:  Okay.  Is it the Administration’s position that the S-300s, the transfer of them to Iran would violate existing sanctions?
 
MS HARF:  In terms of UN Security Council sanctions, it’s my understanding that it would not.
And we think given Iran’s destabilizing actions in the region in places like Yemen or Syria or Lebanon that this isn’t the time to be selling these kinds of systems to them.  So in general, that’s what our concerns are based on. And we have concerns about things separate and apart from whether they would be a violation of Security Council sanctions.
—April 13, 2015 in a press briefing
 
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest
 
QUESTION: The Kremlin has said that Putin has lifted a ban on providing anti-missile rocket systems to Iran.  This is also coming as Russia seems to be prepared to supply grain and other equipment in an oil-for-goods swap with Iran that may position them to have kind of a head start when and if sanctions are lifted.  Is the President -- has he been briefed on this?  What is his response?
 
MR. EARNEST:  Well, Julia, we’ve seen those reports as they relate to the possible sale of the S-300 anti-ballistic missile system to Iran.  The United States has previously made known our objections to that sale, and I understand that Secretary Kerry had an opportunity to raise these concerns once again in a recent conversation with his Russian counterpart, Mr. Lavrov.
 
I’m not in a position to, obviously, speculate on the decision-making process that Russia is engaged in right now, but I do think it’s safe to say that Russia understands that the United States certainly takes very seriously the safety and security of our allies in the region. 
 
As it relates to the other oil-for-goods discussion, this is something that has been -- this is a discussion that has been underway for several months now, and we’ve obviously been aware that there are proposals involving Russia and Iran to, essentially, barter Iranian oil for Russian goods.  We’re studying the details, and if this sort of arrangement were to move forward it would raise serious concerns and even could potentially raise sanctions concerns.  So we’re going to continue to evaluate that moving forward as well.
 
QUESTION: Could it endanger finalizing a deal by the end of June?
 
MR. EARNEST:  Well, one of the things that we have indicated has been critical to our success in this diplomatic process has been the unity of the international community.  And the United States and our partners in Europe have been able to work closely with both Russia and China to bring Iran to the negotiating table by putting in place and enforcing tough sanctions, and engaging in a negotiating position that has succeeded in getting Iran to make serious commitments about limitations and, in some cases, even rolling back specific elements of their nuclear program. 
 
So we value the coordination and unity that we have been able to maintain throughout this rather long process.  In fact, we recently even saw that an official from the foreign ministry in Russia indicated that the U.S. document outlining the parameters of the agreement with Iran was consistent and did reflect the agreement that was reached at the table.  And again, that underscores the kind of unity around the specific agreement that we believe has been critical to our success.
 
We’ll obviously evaluate these two other proposals moving forward.  And obviously we have been in direct touch with Russia to make sure that they understand -- and they do -- the potential concerns we have.
—April 13, 2015 in a press briefing
 
Israel
 
Benjamin Netanyahu
 
“The sale of advanced weapons to Iran is the result of the dangerous agreement that is emerging between Iran and the [six world] powers.
 
“After this arms deal [for the S-300] is there anyone who can seriously claim that the [framework] agreement with Iran will increase the security in the Middle East.”
—April 14, 2015 in a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin
 
Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz
 
“At a time when Iran denies clause after clause of the agreement declared last week, the international community has already begun easing its sanctions.
 
“This is a direct result of the legitimacy that Iran is receiving from the nuclear deal that is being prepared, and proof that the Iranian economic growth which follows the lifting of sanctions will be exploited for arming itself and not for the welfare of the Iranian people.
“Instead of demanding that Iran desist from the terrorist activity that it is carrying out in the Middle East and throughout the world, it is being allowed to arm itself with advanced weapons that will only increase its aggression.”
—April 13, 2015 in a statement
 
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon
 
The Iran-Russia deal is “something we have been warning about even before the details [of the agreement] were concluded. It was clear, even then, that sanctions will be lifted, and that of course this will influence and strengthen the Iranian economy.
 
“This issue was not discussed at all [during nuclear talks with Iran], and this is one of the biggest holes in the agreement. It is outside of the framework agreement, and this is certainly very disturbing. I hope that there will be time in the coming months to fix this.
 
“We continue to warn about the bad agreement that is developing with Iran, which does not include terrorism, missile components, or the military dimension of the Iranian nuclear project. Hence, we are against this bad agreement.”

—April 14, 2015 in a statement

Obama and Abadi: On Iran Role in Iraq

On April 14, President Obama and Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al Abadi held talks at the White House. During a photo op, Obama answered a question about Iran’s role in Iraq. The following is an excerpt of his remarks.

QUESTION: Mr. President, in terms of Iran’s involvement in Iraq -- are you comfortable with the level of coordination that’s been going on with Iran, even if it’s through a third party?
 
PRESIDENT OBAMA:  This is something that we discussed extensively.  I think that, as I’ve said before and I will repeat, we expect Iran to have an important relationship with Iraq as a close neighbor.  And obviously the fact that Iraq is a Shia-majority country means that it will be influenced and have relations with Iran as well.  And at the point in which Daesh or ISIL was surging and the Iraqi government was still getting organized at that point, I think the mobilization of Shia militias was something that was understood to protect Baghdad or other critical areas. 
 
Once Prime Minister Abadi took power, once he reorganized the government and the security forces, once the coalition came in at the invitation of and in an agreement with a sovereign Iraqi government, then our expectation is from that point on, any foreign assistance that is helping to defeat ISIL has to go through the Iraqi government.  That’s how you respect Iraqi sovereignty. That’s how you recognize the democratic government that was hard-earned and is being upheld in the work that Prime Minister Abadi is doing in reaching out to all the various factions inside of Iraq.
 
And so I think Prime Minister Abadi’s position has been that he welcomes help, as you just heard, but it needs to be help that is not simply coordinated with the Iraqi government but ultimately is answerable to the Iraqi government and is funneled through the chain of command within the Iraqi government.  And that’s what we’ve been very careful to do.  I’ve made clear from the outset that ISIL was an enemy and we will make sure that they do not threaten the United States and we will go after them wherever they are.  But when we are working with a strong ally and partner like Iraq, it is very important for us to coordinate our activities so that the impression is not that the United States is somehow moving back into Iraq, but rather the United States is doing what’s ultimately best for the Iraqi people, even as we join in fighting a common enemy.
 
And that’s why Prime Minister Abadi’s clear statement, both inside of Iraq and to the world community, that it is important for all fighting forces to be under unified control of the Iraqi government is so important.  And I think it’s particularly significant that that view is shared among a wide range of political parties inside of Iraq and was echoed by Grand Ayatollah Sistani just recently.  It sends a clear message that ultimately Iraq is in control of its own destiny.  And part of that means that those who possess arms and have the ability to apply force and defend their country have to be under a single government. 
 
As Prime Minister Abadi mentioned, that's particularly important in order to ensure that the government is accountable for the actions of armed forces so that if there are criminal acts or sectarian retributions that are carried out, that ultimately Prime Minister Abadi is able to call those forces to account and to control them, to make sure that you don't have a backlash as consequence of the efforts to clear territory from ISIL’s control.
 
So our coordination I think has consistently improved over time as Prime Minister Abadi has gained greater control over Iraqi security forces.  As the training efforts and equipping efforts that we're engaged in continue to improve, coordinating how our air power can support and expand into a more effective Iraqi security force deployment is going to continue to be critical.  But none of this works unless there is a perception among all the parties involved -- Shia, Sunni, Kurd, and others inside of Iraq -- that this is an inclusive government that is listening to the voices of all the people and including them in decision-making.  And the fact that Prime Minister Abadi is doing that makes our job and the coalition’s job of coordination much easier.
 

Iran Wins in U.S. – at Wrestling

On April 12, Iran’s national wrestling team beat the U.S. squad 5-3 to win the 2015 Freestyle Wrestling World Cup. It was Iran’s sixth time taking the title and its fourth consecutive victory. A congratulatory message was posted on Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s Twitter account soon after the match.

The competition was held in Los Angeles, California, which is home to a large community of Iranian expatriates. Iranian fans reportedly made up more than half of the 4,234 spectators at The Forum and cheered so loudly that the Iranian team may have had “the sense of a home-mat advantage,” according to the Orange County Register.
 
As an individual, American Olympic gold medalist and two-time World champion Jordan Burroughs performed well. But his 10-0 victory over Iran’s Morteza Rezaei Ghaleh was not enough to turn the match around. “There aren’t a lot of times you beat an Iranian 10-0, so it was a great win,” he said. “They were giving it to us, they were relentless. They’ve got bells, whistles,” Burroughs told the Register. The following is a roundup of coverage of the event.
 

 

Click here for the full results of the match.
 

Obama: Nuclear Deal is the Best Option

On April 11, President Barack Obama emphasized that a nuclear deal, if finalized, is the best way to curb Iran’s nuclear program. He claimed that a majority of technical experts think that the framework announced April 2 could lead to “a realistic, plausible, meaningful approach to cut off the pathways for Iran getting a nuclear weapon, and that it is more likely to succeed not only than maintaining current sanctions or additional sanctions, but more likely to succeed than if we took a military approach to solving the problem.” The following are excerpts from his remarks to the press at the Summit of the Americas in Panama City.

Now, with respect to Iran, I have always been clear:  We are not done yet.  What we were able to obtain was a political framework between the P5+1 nations and Iran that provided unprecedented verification of what is taking place in Iran over the next two decades that significantly cuts back on its centrifuges, that cuts of pathways for it to obtain a nuclear weapon, and that calls for, in return, the rolling back of sanctions in a phased way that allows us to snap back if Iran violates the agreement.  That’s the political framework.  That was not just something that the United States and Iran agreed to, but Iran agreed to a political framework with the other P5+1 nations.
 
Now, what’s always been clear is, is that Iran has its own politics around this issue.  They have their own hardliners.  They have their own countervailing impulses in terms of whether or not to go forward with something, just as we have in our country.  And so it’s not surprising to me that the Supreme Leader or a whole bunch of other people are going to try to characterize the deal in a way that protects their political position.  But I know what was discussed at -- in arriving at the political agreement. 
 
What I’ve always said, though, is that there’s the possibility of backsliding.  There’s the possibility that it doesn’t get memorialized in a way that satisfies us that we’re able to verify that, in fact, Iran is not getting a nuclear weapon, and that we are preserving the capacity to snap back sanctions in the event that they are breaking any deal.
 
And that’s why the work is going to be so important between now and the end of June to memorialize this so that we can all examine it.  And we don’t have to speculate on what the meaning of a deal is going to be.  Either there’s going to be a document that Iran agrees with the world community about and a series of actions that have to be taken, or there’s not.  Part of the challenge in this whole process has been opponents of basically any deal with Iran have constantly tried to characterize what the deal is without seeing it. 
 
Now, if we are able to obtain a final deal that comports with the political agreement -- and I say “if” because that’s not yet final -- then I’m absolutely positive that that is the best way to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.  And that’s not my opinion; that’s the opinion of people like Ernie Moniz, my Secretary of Energy, who is a physicist from MIT and actually knows something about this stuff.  That’s the opinion of a whole bunch of nuclear experts who examined the deal. 
 
Very rarely do you see a consensus -- “consensus” is too strong a word -- a large majority of people who are experts in the field saying this is actually a realistic, plausible, meaningful approach to cut off the pathways for Iran getting a nuclear weapon, and that it is more likely to succeed not only than maintaining current sanctions or additional sanctions, but more likely to succeed than if we took a military approach to solving the problem.
 
Again, that’s not uniquely my opinion.  That is -- talk to people who are not affiliated with the administration, some of whom were skeptical about our capacity to get a deal done and have now looked at it and said if we’re able to actually get what was discussed in the political framework, it’s absolutely the right thing to do.
 
Now, there’s politics and political pressure inside of the United States.  We all know that.  The Prime Minister of Israel is deeply opposed to it.  I think he’s made that very clear.  I have repeatedly asked, what is the alternative that you present that you think makes it less likely for Iran to get a nuclear weapon, and I have yet to obtain a good answer on that that. 
 
And the narrow question that’s going to be presented next week when Congress comes back is what’s Congress’s appropriate role in looking at a final deal.  And I’ve talked to not only Bob Corker, but I’ve talked to Ben Cardin, the Ranking Member on the Democratic side.  And I want to work with them so that Congress can look at this deal when it’s done.  What I’m concerned about is making sure that we don’t prejudge it, or those who are opposed to any deal whatsoever try to use a procedural argument essentially to screw up the possibility of a deal. 
 
Last comment I’m going to make on this.  When I hear some, like Senator McCain recently, suggest that our Secretary of State, John Kerry, who served in the United States Senate, a Vietnam veteran, who’s provided exemplary service to this nation, is somehow less trustworthy in the interpretation of what’s in a political agreement than the Supreme Leader of Iran -- that’s an indication of the degree to which partisanship has crossed all boundaries.  And we’re seeing this again and again.  We saw it with the letter by the 47 senators who communicated directly to the Supreme Leader of Iran -- the person that they say can’t be trusted at all -- warning him not to trust the United States government.
 
We have Mitch McConnell trying to tell the world, oh, don’t have confidence in the U.S. government’s abilities to fulfill any climate change pledge that we might make.  And now we have a senator suggesting that our Secretary of State is purposely misinterpreting the deal and giving the Supreme Leader of Iran the benefit of the doubt in the interpretations. 
 
That’s not how we’re supposed to run foreign policy, regardless of who’s President or Secretary of State.  We can have arguments, and there are legitimate arguments to be had.  I understand why people might be mistrustful of Iran.  I understand why people might oppose the deal -- although the reason is not because this is a bad deal per se, but they just don’t trust any deal with Iran, and may prefer to take a military approach to it.
 
But when you start getting to the point where you are actively communicating that the United States government and our Secretary of State is somehow spinning presentations in a negotiation with a foreign power, particularly one that you say is your enemy, that’s a problem.  It needs to stop.
 
Click here for the full transcript
 

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