United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

Rouhani and Obama on Deadline Day

On the day originally designated as the deadline for a nuclear deal, President Barack Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani both issued warnings about their red lines. Obama said he was willing to walk away from talks, after nearly two years of negotiations, if he was not satisfied with terms to verify Iran is not working on a bomb. Rouhani warned that Tehran was prepared to resume its nuclear program in the absence of a deal with the so-called P5+1 countries — Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States. “If the other side breaches the deal, we will go back to the old path, stronger than what they can imagine,” he said in Tehran, according to state media. The following are excerpted remarks by the two presidents.
President Barack Obama
Question: Sir, you're on the cusp of entering into a nuclear agreement with Iran, but there’s still a number of unresolved issues with Iran.  In particular, the fates of Americans like Jason Rezaian, Amir Hekmati, Saeed Abedini, Robert Levinson.  You and your administration say you're continuing to raise the imprisonment and disappearance of these individuals, these Americans.  But still, you will sign -- likely -- an agreement with Tehran and those issues will remain unresolved.  What do you say to them, to the families, about how you will deal with their loved ones?  And I guess the bottom line is, do you find the Iranian leadership trustworthy?
Obama: With respect to U.S. citizens, U.S. persons who are held in Iran, this is something that we continue to push hard on irrespective of the nuclear deal.  It's a top priority for us to make sure that our people are treated fairly.  And on the face of it, in the case of these individuals who’ve been held, they have not been and they are not being afforded the basic due process and legal rights that we afford visitors to our country.
So we're deeply concerned about it.  We spend a lot of time pushing on it, and we will continue to do so.  And there’s no lessening of the sense of urgency.  So when I talk to the families, we remind them of the fact that that is a mission that will continue and has been worked on consistently throughout their captivity.
With respect to the larger issue of whether I trust the Iranian regime, as I've said before, there are deep-seated disagreements and divisions between the United States and Iran, and those aren't going to go away overnight.  The goal of the nuclear negotiations is not to rely on trust, but to set up a verifiable mechanism where we are cutting off the pathways for Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon.
And John Kerry, right now, is there, along with Secretary of Energy Moniz, who’s one of the top nuclear physicists in the world.  They are deeply engaged in negotiations.  My hope is that they can achieve an agreement, but my instructions to them have been extremely clear:  The framework agreement that was established at Lausanne is one that, if implemented effectively and codified properly, would, in fact, achieve my goal, which is Iran not obtaining a nuclear weapon. 
There has been a lot of talk on the other side from the Iranian negotiators about whether, in fact, they can abide by some of the terms that came up in Lausanne.  If they cannot, that’s going to be a problem -- because I’ve said from the start I will walk away from the negotiations if, in fact, it’s a bad deal.  If we can’t provide assurances that the pathways for Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon are closed, and if we can’t verify that, if the inspections regime -- the verification regime is inadequate, then we’re not going to get a deal.  And we’ve been very clear to the Iranian government about that.
And the good news is, is that our P5+1 partners in these negotiations feel exactly the same way.  So there are still some hard negotiations to take place, but ultimately this is going to be up to the Iranians to determine whether or not they meet the requirements that the international community has set forth to be able to fairly and accurately and consistently assess whether or not they have foreclosed the possibility of obtaining a nuclear weapon.  And given past behavior on the part of Iran, that can’t simply be a declaration by Iran and a few inspectors wandering around every once in a while; that’s going to have to be a serious, rigorous verification mechanism.  And that, I think, is going to be the test as to whether we get a deal or not.
—June 30, 2015 in a press conference with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff
President Hassan Rouhani
“If the other side breaches the deal, we will go back to the old path, stronger than what they can imagine.”
—June 30, 2015 according to IRNA via Reuters


Diplomacy in Tweets & Pictures

Updated as of July 10

Foreign ministers from Iran and the world's six major powers — Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United States resumed talks in Vienna on June 28 with only days remaining before the deadline for a final nuclear deal. The following are pictures and tweets from the final round of talks.























Photo credit: Kerry and Lavrov, Moniz, Kerry on crutches, Kerry looking at balcony by U.S. Dept of State via Flickr Commons, U.S. Government work

Diary of Iran Talks

Updated as of July 20

On June 28, Secretary of State John Kerry began a final round of nuclear talks in Vienna with foreign ministers from Iran and the world's six major powers. The following is a rundown of the negotiations as officials pushed towards a final deal.

June 28
  • Secretary of State John Kerry held a series of meetings in Vienna with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, E.U. foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, and the foreign ministers of Britain, France, and Germany.
  • Kerry was accompanied by Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, Under Secretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, and several other high-ranking officials. 
  • Zarif told reporters, "We have come to Vienna to reach an agreement which fully respects the Iranian nation's interests and rights and will be a good agreement for the entire world.” Zarif returned to Tehran at the end of the day, reportedly to consult with other officials about the talks.
  • Mogherini noted that “the political will is there. I've seen it from all sides. So we have tasked our negotiating teams to start working immediately tonight on the text [of the final deal].” Mogherini also hinted at a short extension past the June 30 deadline. “If we need to have a couple of additional days more, it's not the end of the world,” she said. “But it is very clear that the deadline is going to stay end of June / beginning of July.” She also emphasized that “We don't have new points open on the agenda. We are not renegotiating things.”
June 29
  • Talks continued at the ministerial level in Vienna.
  • Kerry also met with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) director Yukiya Amano.
  • White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said, “If the Iranians refuse to agree to a final agreement that is consistent with the framework that was reached in April, then there won’t be an agreement.” An unnamed U.S. official made a similar comment, warning “this path forward has to be based on the Lausanne parameters. Period.”
  • In Tehran, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Ali Akbar Salehi said, "We have repeatedly said that Iran's peaceful nuclear program is for technological purposes.” He added, “The Islamic Republic of Iran has set its own boundaries for nuclear talks, which lets no opportunity cross the redlines.” Salehi, who had been recovering from surgery, joined negotiators in Vienna the next day.
June 30
  • Zarif returned to Vienna, accompanied by Salehi and Hossein Fereydoun, President Hassan Rouhani’s brother and special advisor. Upon his arrival, Zarif said the talks were at a “critical stage” but that negotiations were “making progress.”
  • State Department spokesperson Marie Harf announced that the terms of the interim agreement would be extended so the talks could continue past the deadline. "The P5+1 and Iran have decided to extend the measures under the Joint Plan of Action until July 7 to allow more time for negotiations to reach a long-term solution…on the Iran nuclear issue,” she said.
  • The U.S. Treasury issued guidance on extending limited sanctions relief until the new deadline.
  • Salehi and Moniz met to discuss the technical aspects of a deal.
  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier arrived in Vienna. Lavrov met separately with Zarif, Kerry, and Steinmeier.
  • Zarif met with Amano.


July 1

  • Kerry and Zarif met one-on-one, joined later by Salehi, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi, Deputy Foreign Minister Majid Takht Ravanchi, Moniz, U.S. Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman, and E.U. deputy foreign policy chief Helga Schmid.
  • The IAEA released a report confirming that Iran has complied with its key commitments under the interim nuclear deal.

  • “We have some very difficult issues,” Kerry said. “But we believe we’re making progress and we’re going to continue to work because of that.”

July 2

  • French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond arrived in Vienna.
  • Kerry held separate meetings with Zarif, Mogherini, Wang Yi, and Hammond.
  • Zarif met separately with Hammond, Steinmeier, and Wang Yi.
  • In Tehran, Amano met with President Hassan Rouhani and Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council Ali Shamkhani.
  • Salehi and Moniz held another round of talks.
  • Iranian deputy foreign ministers Araghchi and Ravanchi met with their U.S. and E.U. counterparts, Sherman and Schmid.
  • Ravanchi announced that the foreign ministers would leave Vienna at the end of the day.
  • “I don’t think we are at any kind of breakthrough yet,” Hammond cautioned. “The work goes on. You’re going to see over the next few days ministers coming and ministers going to maintain the momentum of these discussions.”
  • Zarif said, “The negotiations are moving forward and we should be hopeful.”

July 3

  • U.S., E.U., and Iranian deputy foreign ministers held a six-hour meeting.
  • Kerry met with Zarif.
  • Rouhani’s chief of staff Mohammad Nahavandian joined the negotiating team in Vienna.
  • Zarif said "We are ready to strike a balanced and good deal and open new horizons to address important common challenges…We have never been closer to a lasting outcome."

July 4

  • Moniz met with Salehi.
  • Expert-level negotiators reached a tentative agreement on sanctions relief. But the issue of whether U.N. sanctions should include a “snap back” mechanism if Iran violates the terms of a deal remained unresolved.
  • Kerry and Zarif met twice.
  • Amano, commenting on his visit to Tehran on July 2, said “With the cooperation from Iran I think we can issue a report by the end of the year on the assessment of the clarification of the issues related to possible military dimensions…We have made progress on the way forward."
July 5
  • Kerry held four separate meetings with Zarif.
  • Foreign ministers from Britain, China, France, Germany, and Russia returned to Vienna.
  • A senior U.S. official said it was “conceivable” the talks could extend beyond July 7. But Kerry emphasized “We’re currently pushing, as we’ve all said, for the 7th. That’s the deadline.”

July 6

  • Foreign ministers from Iran and the world’s six major powers met in Vienna. The foreign ministers met again later in the day, joined by the deputy foreign ministers.
  • Zarif held separate meetings with Kerry, Lavrov, and Mogherini.
  • IAEA delegates met with officials in Tehran to discuss details of agreements made during Amano’s visit the week before.
  • Discussions between the foreign ministers became tense. Kerry and Zarif were heard shouting during their one-on-one meeting. In another meeting, Zarif said “If we are talking about regional security, I should take every one of you to international courts for supporting Saddam,” referencing U.S. support for Saddam Hussein’s 1980 invasion of Iran.  He also allegedly said "Never try to threaten the Iranians” during a heated exchange with Mogherini.

July 7

  • The foreign ministers of Iran and the world’s six major powers were scheduled to meet, but the Iranian delegation never joined the meeting.
  • The deputy foreign ministers held a separate meeting.
  • Kerry met briefly with Zarif.
  • Lavrov, Steinmeier, Hammond, and Fabius left Vienna.
  • State Department spokesperson Marie Harf announced that the interim nuclear deal would be extended to July 10. “We’re frankly more concerned about the quality of the deal than we are about the clock,” she said.
  • An unnamed Iranian negotiator told the press that one remaining issue was the U.N. arms embargo that bans arms exports to Iran. “Our position is that the arms embargo should not be part” of a final agreement, the official said. Russia also seeks to lift the embargo.
  • Araghchi said "The main text of the draft deal is almost complete," but noted that two or three "fundamental and important" issues remained to be resolved.
  • President Obama told Senate Democrats he believed there was less than a 50-50 chance of getting a deal.
July 8

  • Sherman and Robert Malley, an advisor to President Obama, met with Araghchi and Ravanchi.
  • Zarif met with Mogherini and Wang Yi.
  • Salehi met with Moniz.
  • President Obama held a teleconference with the U.S. negotiating team.
  • Steinmeier and Hammond returned to Vienna in the evening.
  • Schmid met with Araghchi and Ravanchi, with discussions lasting until 1:00am.


    July 9

  • Fabius returned to Vienna.
  • Schmid met again with Araghchi and Ravanchi. Araghchi later met with Sherman.
  • Kerry met with Mogherini, Fabius, Hammond, and Steinmeier. He also held a separate meeting with Zarif.
  • Zarif met with Steinmeier.
  • Moniz met with Salehi.
  • Steinmeier left Vienna, to return the next day.
  • In remarks to the press, Kerry emphasized that the talks are "not open-ended," but offered few clues about how long the talks would continue. "President Obama made it very clear to me last night we can’t wait forever for the decisions to be made," he said. "If the tough decisions don’t get made, we are absolutely prepared to call an end to this process."


July 10
  • Hammond and Fabius left Vienna.
  • Zarif met with Steinmeier, Mogherini, and Kerry before a larger meeting with the foreign ministers and deputy foreign ministers.
  • Western diplomats told the press that talks would last a few more days. U.S. and E.U. sanctions relief under the interim deal was extended until July 13.
  • Hammond said negotiators were making progress, but described it as "painfully slow."
  • But Salehi said “there is a high chance for agreement in the Austrian capital.”

July 11

  • Fabius returned to Vienna.
  • Araghchi and Ravanchi met with Schmid, Sherman, and Malley.
  • Kerry met with Steinmeier, and met separately with Mogherini and Zarif. He held a third meeting with Mogherini, Fabius, and Steinmeier.
  • Kerry spoke with Lavrov on the phone.
  • Kerry and Zarif met again later in the evening.
  • Rouhani claimed that Iran had managed to "charm the world' throughout 22 months of negotiations.


July 12

  • Meetings continued at the expert and deputy minister level. Araghchi and Ravanchi met with Sherman and Malley, and Amano and Salehi held a short meeting. The Iranian deputy foreign ministers also reportedly held a meeting with Schmid that lasted until 4:00am.
  • Kerry met with Zarif. Kerry said he was “hopeful” after a “very good meeting.”
  • Hammond left Vienna.
  • Lavrov returned to Vienna in the evening.
  • Kerry, Fabius, Steinmeier, Mogherini, Lavrov, the U.K. political director, and the Chinese U.N. envoy held a working dinner.
  • "I think we're getting to some real decisions," Kerry said. "So I will say, because we have a few tough things to do, I remain hopeful. Hopeful." 
  • Fabius said, "Now that everything is on the table, the moment has come to decide."
  • Araghchi, however, said " I cannot promise that the problems will be resolved tonight or tomorrow night.”


July 13

  • Lavrov met with Zarif.
  • The U.S. and Iranian negotiating teams met with Mogherini.
  • Araghchi and Ravanchi met with Sherman and Malley.
  • Kerry met with Zarif, joined by the deputy foreign ministers, Salehi, Moniz, Schmid, Malley, and Fereydoun.
  • Wang Yi arrived in Vienna.
  • Zarif met with Wang Yi. "We believe that nuclear talks between Iran and the six major world powers should not be extended anymore, but we can carry on work as long as it is needed,” Zarif said during the meeting.
  • Kerry, Fabius, Steinmeier, Wang Yi, and Lavrov held a meeting. Hammond was expected to return later in the day.
  • Iran and the world’s six major powers were scheduled to hold a plenary session in the evening.


July 14

  • Foreign ministers from Iran and the world's six major powers announced that they had reached a final nuclear agreement. Click here for the full text.


July 20

  • The U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 2231 endorsing the final deal.
  • The deal and its annexes were also delivered to the U.S. Congress, beginning a 60-day review period.

Photo credits: U.S. negotiating team, Kerry and Amano, Kerry and Lavrov, Kerry and Zarif, Kerry and reporters, foreign ministers by U.S. Dept of State via Flickr Commons, U.S. Government work


The War that Haunts Iran’s Negotiators

Robin Wright (for The New Yorker)

The historic nuclear diplomacy taking place in Vienna’s elegant Coburg Palace has roots in a gritty war between Iran and Iraq that ended more than a quarter of a century ago. Iran suffered more than a hundred and fifty thousand dead between 1980 and 1988. In Tehran, it’s called the Sacred Defense. In the final stages, U.S. aid to Iraq contributed to Iran’s decision to pursue nuclear capability—the very program that six world powers are now negotiating to contain.
Click here for the full article in The New Yorker.


All You Need to Know on Iran Nuke Talks

Iran and the world's six major powers - Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United States - continued to struggle to reconcile disagreements with only days remaining before the June 30 deadline for a comprehensive nuclear deal. Negotiators had reached an agreement on a blueprint for a final deal on April 2. But key points of contention remained, including the inspection of military sites, timing of sanctions relief, and restrictions on nuclear research and development.

The following list contains background information, key statements from officials, and other resources on the nuclear negotiations.

Statements and Official Documents

Reports and Polls

Senate Hearing: Key Elements of Nuke Deal

Congress Acts: Senate, House Pass Corker Bill

Democrats to Obama: Stay on Course

House Foreign Affairs Committee: Verification Needed in Nuke Deal

Iran Nuclear Plan: Congress Reacts

House Foreign Affairs Committee Debates Nuke Talks

GOP Letter and Responses


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