United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

UN Watchdog Prepared for Final Nuclear Deal

On June 8, the U.N. nuclear watchdog chief, Yukiya Amano, said his agency is “ready to undertake monitoring and verification” measures currently being negotiated between Iran and the world’s six major powers. He said the implementation of a comprehensive nuclear deal “will strengthen safeguards implementation in Iran and significantly increase the [International Atomic Energy] Agency’s (IAEA) ability to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in the country.”

Regarding questions about the possibility military dimensions of Iran’s program, Amano said that outstanding issues could be clarified “within a reasonable timeframe if Iran implements the measures envisaged in the Lausanne announcement.” The following are excerpted remarks by Director General Amano to the IAEA board of governors.
 
Implementation of Safeguards in the Islamic Republic of Iran
 
Madam Chairperson,
 
Concerning safeguards implementation in Iran, the Agency continues to verify the non-diversion of nuclear material declared by Iran under its Safeguards Agreement. However, the Agency is not in a position to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran, and therefore to conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities.
 
At their talks in Lausanne in April, Iran and the E3+3 countries took a step forward by announcing key parameters of a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. If requested, the IAEA is ready to undertake monitoring and verification of the nuclear-related measures to be agreed under the Plan, subject to the endorsement of the Board of Governors and the availability of resources. In order to help make the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action technically sound, the Agency has been engaging closely with both Iran and the E3+3 countries.
 
Conclusion of a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action that includes implementation by Iran of the Additional Protocol will strengthen safeguards implementation in Iran and significantly increase the Agency’s ability to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in the country. Other measures in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action are expected to provide additional assurance.
 
I am confident that the clarification of issues with possible military dimensions is possible within a reasonable timeframe if Iran implements the measures envisaged in the Lausanne announcement. Once the Agency has established an understanding of the whole picture concerning issues with possible military dimensions, I will report our assessment to the Board of Governors.
 
I had talks with Foreign Minister Zarif and Deputy Foreign Minister Araghchi, in which we discussed how the resolution of all outstanding issues related to Iran’s nuclear programme can be accelerated. The Agency remains ready to accelerate the resolution of all outstanding issues under the Framework for Co-operation. This can be realised by increased co-operation by Iran and by the timely provision of access to all relevant information, documentation, sites, material and personnel in Iran.
 
Click here for Amano’s full statement.
 

Photo credit: Yukiya Amano via Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade website – www.dfat.gov.au (CC 3.0)

 

Tags: IAEA, U.N.

Nuke Deal Could Benefit Iran's Youth

Iran is well positioned to reap the economic benefits of a potential nuclear deal, especially since its young working age population is expanding. According to Farzaneh Roudi, the prospect of removing sanctions under a deal could “help Iran transform its economy to accommodate its large and educated labor force.” The following are excerpts from the latest edition of the Wilson Center Middle East Program’s Viewpoints Series.

Iran is poised to reap a vast “demographic dividend” if the appropriate national and international policies are adopted, including a nuclear deal with the P5+1 (five permanent members of the UN Security Council, plus Germany). The demographic dividend is the accelerated economic growth that countries may experience when the working-age population expands relative to the total population, as is the case in Iran today. When more working-age adults have fewer children to support (because of declines in fertility), a country has a window of opportunity for rapid economic growth if the appropriate social and economic policies are in place. A nuclear deal that leads to the removal of economic sanctions on Iran could provide just this opportunity for Iran: a chance to participate in the global economy on a much greater scale and create the most needed jobs for its large and relatively educated labor force.
 
More than 4 million students are enrolled in higher education and, over the next four years, will be poised to enter an extremely tight job market. Currently, an estimated 2.5 million to 3.0 million working-age adults are unemployed and looking for a job, even accounting for the large number of Iranians who continue to emigrate. Iran has experienced a significant brain drain since the Islamic Revolution in 1979. But, with the prospect of a nuclear deal and removal of sanctions, Iran could benefit from its large diaspora, who largely live in the West, by engaging them in the economy directly as investors or indirectly as a bridge between businesses outside and inside the country.
 
Iran is among the few countries in the Middle East and North Africa region, and in the Muslim world generally, that have completed the “demographic transition”—the shift from high mortality and fertility to low mortality and fertility. As economies develop and people’s education and health improve, death and birth rates start to decline. Death rates usually decline before birth rates do, resulting in a period of rapid population growth. In Iran, between the censuses of 1976 and 1986, the population grew rapidly, at an average of 3.9 percent per year (3.2 percent from natural increase and 0.7 percent from immigration). According to UN estimates, Iran reached its peak of 4 percent annual population growth in the early 1980s. The country’s population more than doubled in 30 years, from 34 million in 1976 to 71 million in 2006. It reached 78 million in 2015.
 
As countries complete their demographic transition, the size of the population eventually stabilizes if the total fertility rate (lifetime births per woman) settles at close to two births per woman—the rate at which couples replace themselves. The experiences of countries that have completed their demographic transitions, however, show that fertility often continues to fall below the replacement level. This has been the case in Japan and many European countries, as well as Iran. It has joined the group of countries whose fertility has been below the replacement level for more than a decade. Today, women in Iran have an average of 1.8 children.5 Life expectancy at birth increased from 52 years in the early 1970s to 74 years today, largely due to declines in infant and child mortality, which have pushed up average life expectancy.6 In the 2 early 1970s, 1 in 8 infants in Iran died before reaching their first birthday, but by early 1990s, this ratio decreased to 1 in 24. By the early 2010s, it fell to 1 in 62, resulting in a much larger percentage of infants reaching adulthood and, in turn, having their own children. Today, Iran’s infant mortality rate is less than half of the world’s average.
 
With its declining fertility and rising life expectancy, Iran’s population has grown older: its median age rose from 17 in 1986 to 27 in 2011. In the 1970s and 1980s, nearly half of the population was under age 15, but that declined to only about a quarter of the population in 2011 (see Figure 1). Iran’s age structure has thus shifted: the working-age population (ages 15 to 64) grew from 52 percent of the total population in 1986 to 71 percent in 2011, presenting the country a “demographic window of opportunity” and positioning it to reap its demographic dividend. The dividend can occur when its age structure shifts toward more people in the working-age group relative to children and the elderly. With fewer dependents to support, a country has the potential for rapid economic growth if the right social and economic policies are in place to enable a young, educated population to enter the labor force and contribute to increased productivity and economic growth. The opportunity must be seized before the share of working-age population shrinks, as it grows older. In Iran, the proportion of the elderly population ages 65 and over is expected to grow rapidly from 6 percent in 2011 to 20 percent by 2050, as the baby boomers of 1970s and 1980s reach age 65.
 
Click here to read the full article
 
Tags: Youth

Treasury: Sanctions Relief Would Be Phased

On June 7, Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew defended the Obama administration's diplomatic efforts to solve the nuclear dispute with Iran. Speaking to an audience at the annual Jerusalem Post conference in New York, he also outlined how sanctions relief could work under a final agreement. Sanctions “would be lifted in phases, only after Iran meets agreed-upon benchmarks,” Lew assured the audience. “And second we will make sure that if Iran violates its commitments, we will have the full capability to snap sanctions back into place and reverse the relief.”

Lew, however, was reportedly booed during his speech. As he defended President Obama’s record on support for Israel and approach to solving the nuclear dispute, Lew spoke over repeated catcalls. Eventually, the Posts’s editor-in-chief, Steve Linde, chastised the hecklers. The following are excerpted remarks by Lew.
 
Of course, keeping Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon is not a new or recent national security priority for the Obama Administration—it has been a core priority since the very beginning.  And our commitment to stopping Iran was not just rhetoric—our commitment was backed up with action.
 
For us at the Treasury Department, that meant working with Congress, agencies across the federal government, and our counterparts around the globe to build an international sanctions regime without precedent. Let us not forget that when this sanctions regime was being put together, it was criticized—called “idiot diplomacy,” “merely a political statement,” and “an idea whose time has come and gone.”  After all, the United States had already had a near-total embargo on Iran for more than a decade.  Many doubted whether the international community would remain united to stop Iran, whether countries with great energy needs like China and India would join us and agree to dramatically rein in their oil purchases, and whether the United States government could put together a sanctions program that would be effective enough to pressure the leadership in Tehran to alter its plans. 
 
Those doubts were proven wrong.  Thanks to our sanctions, Iran finds itself isolated from the international financial system, its oil exports are slashed by more than half, and much of its oil revenue and foreign reserves are out of reach.  In other words, today, when we look at Iran, we see an economy struggling under the weight of the most effective and most innovative sanctions regime in history.  At the same time, inside Iran, sanctions helped shape the country’s political discourse.  Iran elected a president who campaigned on the importance of ending Iran’s international isolation.
 
To be clear, sanctions were always a means to an end.  They were designed to help bring Iran’s leaders to the table to negotiate a serious agreement on its nuclear program.  And while we will not know until the process is completed whether there will be an agreement, there is no doubt that our sanctions worked to bring Iran to the table, prepared to make serious concessions. 
 
Following months of hard bargaining and tough negotiations, we struck an interim understanding with Iran in November 2013.  In accordance with that arrangement, Tehran froze and rolled back parts of its nuclear program while we continued to negotiate on a longer term deal.  At that time, some denounced the interim understanding, known as the Joint Plan of Action.  They said Iran would cheat, that our sanctions would fall apart, and that this temporary deal would allow Iran to move closer to acquiring a nuclear weapon.  But none of that came to pass.  Iran remains under enormous economic pressure.  It has halted and scaled back key elements of its nuclear program.  And we have gained unprecedented insight into Iran’s nuclear activities.
 
Still, we take nothing for granted certainly not that we can simply trust Iran.  We know that Iran has historically told the international community one thing, while doing something very different.  And since the outset of our negotiations, we have abided by a critical principle: distrust and verify.  So through painstaking verification, we have made sure that the Iranians are keeping their commitments—allowing us to continue the talks knowing that Iran was not simply using negotiations as a form of smoke and mirrors.  And while Iran has received limited, reversible relief in exchange for its compliance, at the same time, we have continued to aggressively implement and enforce our core sanctions on Iran, ensuring that the pressure remains strong and that Iran has a real incentive to make concessions at the negotiating table.
 
Over the last week, there have been news reports, based on information from the International Atomic Energy Agency, that Iran’s stockpile of uranium has grown over the past 18 months.  Some took this to mean that Tehran failed to meet its commitments under the Joint Plan of Action.  But the IAEA did not reach that conclusion.  Quite to the contrary, the IAEA verified that Iran has met the terms of its agreements, that the progress on its nuclear program has been frozen, and that fluctuations in Iran’s stockpile of uranium were an entirely expected part of the chemical conversion process.  To put it another way, even though Iran’s stockpile of uranium has gone up and down at various times over the past 18 months, this was something we anticipated and at each of the deadlines that have been set, Iran’s uranium stockpile levels have been within the levels that were agreed to.
 
That brings us to the framework for a final agreement—the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action—which we reached in Switzerland in early April, a framework that is the basis of a good, comprehensive deal.  It meets our core objective: blocking each of Iran’s pathways to a bomb.  This includes break-out attempts at the known nuclear facilities at Natanz, Fordow, and Arak as well as any potential secret path to developing a nuclear weapon.  At the same time, as the framework lays out, the final deal will be built around an incredibly robust and intrusive inspections regime on Iran’s nuclear program.  We will have more insight into Iran’s program that we have ever had.  We will be inspecting and monitoring Iran’s nuclear sites and, importantly, supply chains.  Uranium mines, uranium mills, centrifuge production sites, assembly and storage facilities, the purchase of sensitive equipment—all will be under penetrating surveillance. 
 
Make no mistake, we are not operating on an assumption that Iran will act in good faith.  This deal will only be finalized if the connective tissue of the agreement meets a tough standard  of intense verification and scrutiny.  A final agreement will have to specifically address concerns about a potential covert nuclear weapon program.  If we reach an agreement and Iran ends up flouting its obligations, we will know, and we will have preserved all our options—including economic and military measures—to make sure that Iran can never acquire a nuclear weapon. 
 
In return for meeting the demands that have been put on it by the international community, Iran would obtain phased-in relief from nuclear-related sanctions. But, in the same way that we have structured inspections around the notion that Iran might try to cheat, we have approached winding down sanctions so we can police against the same risk.
 
Should we come to a final agreement, sanctions relief will be granted under two conditions.
 
First, sanctions would be lifted in phases, only after Iran meets agreed-upon benchmarks.  Our phasing will be designed to ensure that Iran meets and maintains its commitments.
 
And second, we will make sure that if Iran violates its commitments, we will have the full capability to snap sanctions back into place and reverse the relief.
 
The framework meets our requirements in both respects, and if we can get a comprehensive deal, here is how it will work.
 
Iran will receive relief from certain UN, EU, and U.S. sanctions only after it verifiably completes major nuclear-related steps.
 
Right now, Iran is two to three months away from acquiring a bomb’s worth of nuclear material.  Under the agreement we are pursuing, for at least 10 years, Iran will be kept at least one year away from having enough enriched uranium to produce a nuclear weapon and will have no path to developing a bomb using plutonium.
 
That is because we will have blocked all four of Iran’s pathways to develop a nuclear weapon.  The core of the reactor at its only plutonium facility—Arak—will be dismantled and replaced.  As far as uranium, Iran will no longer enrich uranium at its Fordow facility, and it will reduce its centrifuges at Natanz by two-thirds.  The remaining centrifuges at Natanz will enrich uranium to below 5 percent for the next 15 years, only enough for energy purposes.  In addition, Iran will have to reduce and maintain its stockpile of low-enriched uranium from approximately 12,000kg to 300kg — a reduction of 98 percent.  But in addition to safeguarding these declared nuclear sites, a potential deal must prevent Iran from using a covert site to break out.  And that is why any deal must ensure comprehensive and robust monitoring and inspection anywhere and everywhere the IAEA has reason to go. 
 
In return for taking these steps, and only if these steps are taken, we are prepared to provide significant sanctions relief, including suspending secondary oil, trade, and banking sanctions.  And while we would suspend these sanctions using a combination of Executive authorities, the President’s authority to re-impose sanctions would remain in place.  In the meantime, our legislative sanctions authorities, which only Congress can end, will remain in place.  And we will only ask Congress to vote to end those sanctions after Iran has complied with the agreement for many years.
 
This aspect of the framework is very important.  By maintaining our sanctions architecture and providing relief through waivers, we will be able to quickly reinstate sanctions if Iran violates the agreement.  This snapback mechanism will give us crucial leverage to ensure that Iran remains in compliance for years after any agreement is reached. 
 
And, snapback provisions are not limited to U.S. sanctions alone.  The international coalition that put together the current multilateral sanctions regime remains united in the view that Iran must face the full force of international sanctions if it fails to meet its obligations under the agreement.  We are still developing the exact mechanisms by which sanctions stemming from UN Security Council Resolutions would be re-imposed.  But we will not allow such a snapback to be subject to a veto by an individual P5 member, including China or Russia.
 
Before closing, I want to explain a little about what sanctions relief will actually mean and what it will not mean for Iran should an agreement be reached and should Iran verifiably meet its commitments under that agreement. 
 
We share the concern that Iran may use the money it gets from sanctions relief to support terrorism and the activities of its dangerous proxies throughout the Middle East.  But it is important to note that our sanctions on Iran’s terrorist networks will remain in place, even after Iran takes the steps necessary to get relief from nuclear-related sanctions.  In addition, we are deepening our cooperation with Israel and our other regional partners who want to stand up to Iran’s influence and interference.
 
On top of that, the idea that Iran’s economy will instantly recover if a deal is reached is a myth.  Iran’s economy has to climb out of an incredibly deep hole.  Iran’s domestic investment needs are estimated to be at least half a trillion dollars, which far exceeds the benefit of sanctions relief.  Iran’s priority—as expressed with the election of President Rouhani—is to address those domestic needs first: fixing its budget, paying for infrastructure upgrades, increasing imports, and shoring up the rial.   Reserves that would be released are far less than what Iran requires to address all of these needs.
 
The truth is, it will take Iran quite a while to recover from the effect of the unprecedented international sanctions effort led by the United States. Consider these facts.
 
•           Our sanctions have cost Iran more than $160 billion in oil revenues since 2012 — revenues Iran can never recoup.  And even if Iran were able to quickly double its current oil exports — a big if given how low oil prices are today and how much investment Iran’s infrastructure needs to produce at this level — it would take more than three years for Iran to earn that much money.
 
•           Iran’s GDP shrank by 9 percent in the two years ending in March 2014, and it is today 15 to 20 percent smaller than it would have been had it remained on its pre-2012 growth trajectory.  It will take years for Iran to reach the level of economic activity it would be at now had sanctions never been put in place.
 
Given the state of Iran’s economy and the long road ahead, Tehran will need to channel substantial resources to address its urgent domestic needs. But that does not mean that Iran will stop supporting dangerous actors like Hizballah and the Assad regime.  That support has gone on for years now, even as Iran’s economy has suffered tremendously, and we have every reason to believe it will continue.  And the unfortunate truth remains that the cost of this support is sufficiently small, that we will need to remain vigilant with or without a nuclear deal to use our other tools to deter the funding of terror and regional destabilization.
 
But a nuclear deal was never meant to resolve all the conflicts between the United States and Iran.  That is not what this deal is about.  The framework we have established paves the way for an international agreement between Iran and America, Britain, France, Germany, the EU, Russia, and China to stop Iran from obtaining the most dangerous type of weapon the world has ever known.  The region and the world will be a more dangerous place if we fail, and a nuclear armed Iran would be more a more menacing supporter of terrorist groups and destabilizing regional forces.
 
We are resolved to hold Iran accountable and continue to use all our available tools, including sanctions, to deter Iran’s aggression, its violation of human rights, its sponsorship of terrorism, and its threats against America’s allies—like Israel.  Iran knows that our array of sanctions focused on its efforts to support terrorism and destabilize the region will continue after any nuclear agreement.  That means Treasury will continue to aggressively target the finances of Iranian-backed terrorist groups and the Iranian entities that support them, including Hizballah and the IRGC-Qods Force.  And as we have always done, we will continue to stand with Israel and publicly condemn any hateful speech towards the State of Israel from Iranian officials.
 
As we meet this afternoon, we are only a few weeks away from the deadline for a final agreement.  From now until then, our negotiators will work around the clock to try to iron out the remaining details of a comprehensive deal.  Now, as everyone here knows, Prime Minister Netanyahu does not believe Iran can be trusted.  Neither do we.  That is why the only way we will agree to a deal is if we get the access to ensure that Iran is keeping its word and we have a procedure in place to re-impose sanctions in the event that Iran violates the terms of the agreement. 
 
A diplomatic solution is the best, most enduring path to achieve our goal of keeping Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.  But we have also been clear, we remain steadfast in our determination to take any steps necessary to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. That is not just important to Israel’s security but America’s security.
 
As history makes clear, we owe it to ourselves and we owe it to future generations to give diplomacy a chance.  Whether it was Nelson Mandela emerging from prison after 27 years to negotiate the peaceful end to apartheid, Ronald Reagan sitting at a table with a nation he called the “evil empire” to negotiate the end to the Cold War, or Menachem Begin meeting at Camp David to negotiate a peace accord with Egypt, Israel’s sworn enemy—diplomacy is not conducted with our friends but with our adversaries.  And when given a chance, smart, tough, hard-fought diplomacy can succeed. 
 
Click here for his full remarks.

Nuke Talks: Latest from Iran, P5+1

On May 30, Secretary of State John Kerry met with his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, for six hours of talks on the nuclear issue. It was the first time that such high level discussions have taken place since the blueprint for a final deal was announced on April 2. On June 4, negotiations resumed at the deputy foreign minister level between Iran and the world’s six major powers – Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United States. With only weeks remaining before the June 30 deadline for a final deal, the issue of international inspections of military sites remained a key sticking point. French foreign minister Laurent Fabius said “if you say you cannot check any military site, then there is no [real] agreement.” Ali Akbar Velayati, an advisor to Iran’s supreme leader, said that Iran “will never allow its military sites to be inspected.”

The following are quotes from officials on the latest round of talks.
 

 

Iran 
 
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei 

 

 

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif 
 
“We have decided to discuss other solutions to resolve this issue,” referring to international inspections of nuclear sites. 
 
“We have decided to work full time for the next three or four weeks to see whether or not it will be possible to reach an agreement.” 
—May 30, 2015 after meetings with Secretary of State Kerry 
 
“There are still numerous differences, and efforts will be made in various meetings so that these differences will be reduced to minimum levels and they will be studied in the next ministerial meeting. 
 
The “differences are mainly those that have been discussed publicly.” 
—May 31, 2015 to state television 
 

Senior Advisor to the Supreme Leader Ali Akbar Velayati 

“It has been repeatedly seen that the (UN nuclear) agency’s inspectors have been a plaything in the hands of the CIA, but the Islamic Republic of Iran ... will never allow its military sites to be inspected. 
 
“Records show that some of the agency's inspectors are the agents of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and this fact is documented and openly known. 
 
“We have no trust in the American statesmen's conduct and remarks. 
 
“As mentioned by Leader of the Islamic Revolution [Ayatollah Ali Khamenei], Iran will not allow that they [P5+1 countries] will humiliate the country’s scientists under the pretext of meeting nuclear scientists.” 
—June 1, 2015 according to Press TV
 

Deputy Foreign Minister for Legal and International Affairs Abbas Araghchi 

 

Allowing Iran's scientists to be interviewed is "generally off the table." 
—May 30, 2015, according to the press 
 
“We have a few weeks and hope to reach a final deal by the June 30 deadline or even sooner…There has been progress but still we have a difficult way ahead of us.”
—June 4, 2015, according to the press
 
“Our basis is mistrust and this is the reality.”
 
“We don't trust the other side at all and they don't trust us either.”
 
"Thus all the provisions in a deal... whenever each party feels the other side is violating the commitments, they can snap back and implement whatever existed before the agreement.
 
"We have taken every necessary measure so this would happen for us. Naturally, the other side will do the same for sanctions.”
 
“Each word of this instrument is being discussed and sometimes quarrelled on… There are differences but work moves forward very slowly.”
—June 6, 2015, according to the press
 
“It is a tough and complicated task, and it is moving forward very slowly. It has its own sensitivities and complications but we are still working (on it).”
—June 8, 2015, according to the press
 
Deputy Foreign Minister for European and American Affairs Majid Takht-e Ravanchi
 
“If the opposite (negotiating) side does not come up with excessive demands, the negotiations will lead to a result by the announced deadline.”
 
“The Islamic Republic of Iran’s determination is (based on) pushing ahead with the negotiations seriously and strongly and making all-out efforts to reach a good, reasonable and acceptable agreement.”
—June 7, 2015, according to the press
 
Government Spokesperson Mohammad Bagher Nobakht 
 
“While the government respects their [people who criticize the talks] concerns, but these protests are illegal [because the Interior Ministry didn't issue them permits to gather]. And based on the view of the Imam [the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini] and the Supreme Leader [Ayatollah Ali Khamenei], illegal activities are also against the Sharia. 
 
“These are the final days of the negotiations and both sides naturally try to see more of their demands met, and they may even make use of provocative remarks through their officials and unofficial people. 
 
“But what matters is the issues that are written and not speeches, and we are striving to materialize the Iranian nation's rights in full in what is written. 
—June 1, 2015 in a press conference  
 
Deputy of Atomic Energy Organization of Iran Behrouz Kamalvandi
 
“Even in case of verification of information on possible nuclear activities, the IAEA is only permitted to access the site. It is a false assumption that the Agency is allowed to question the scientists one by one.”
—June 8, 2015, according to the press
                                                                                                                                                                             
United States 
 
President Barack Obama
 
“I can I think demonstrate, not based on any hope but on facts and evidence and analysis that the best way to prevent Iran from having a nuclear weapon is a verifiable tough agreement. A military solution will not fix it, even if the United States will participates, it would temporarily slow down an Iranian nuclear program, but it will not eliminate it.”
—June 1, 2015, in an interview on Israeli television
 
 
Vice President’s National Security Advisor Colin Kahl
 
“Under the deal we are negotiating... Iran's enrichment capability will be substantially rolled back.”
 
“The deal we are negotiating makes us and the region safer.”
 
“In the absence of comprehensive agreement to deal with this challenge and constrain Iran's programme, Iran would likely install and begin operating tens of thousands of fissile centrifuges in the near future.” 
—June 3, 2015 at a conference in Doha, Qatar via AFP 
 
France 
 
Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius 
 
“The best agreement, if you cannot verify it, it’s useless. Several countries in the region would say, OK, a paper [has been signed] but we think it is not strong enough and therefore we ourselves have to become nuclear. 
 
“Therefore, if you say you cannot check any military site, then there is no [real] agreement. 
 
“If it is too long a delay [between when a request to inspect a site is submitted and when permission is granted to do so by Iran], they have enough time to change everything,” he said. 
—June 1, 2015 in an interview with The Wall Street Journal 
 
French Ambassador to the United States Gérard Araud 
 
 
Russia 
 
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov 
 
The P5+1 countries and Iran can reach an agreement by June 30, unless some participants try “at the 11th hour to get a bit more” than what the blueprint outlined on April 2. 
—June 2, 2015 in an interview with Bloomberg Television 
 
“The talks have entered the final stage and we are convinced that the parties ought to reach agreement on all technical issues in order to comply with the already agreed political framework.”
—June 4, 2015, according to the press
 
China
 
Foreign Minister Wang Yi
 
“(We) must push forward the next stage of talks on the basis of the Lausanne framework ... and all parties should not raise any new demands to prevent complicating the talks process.”
 
“All sides' legitimate concerns ought to be paid attention to and rationally resolved; all sides should meet each other half way and not drift further apart.”
—June 4, 2015, according to the press

 

Photo credit: Kerry and Zarif by U.S. Department of State via Flickr Commons, public domain as U.S. Government work

Obama to Israelis: Military Strike Won’t Stop Iran Nuclear Program

On May 29, President Barack Obama told Israel’s Channel 2 that a military strike, even with U.S. participation, would only “temporarily slow down an Iranian nuclear program.” He pushed back on criticism of the potential deal being negotiated between Iran and the world’s six major powers. The “best way to prevent Iran from having a nuclear weapon is a verifiable, tough agreement,” he said. The president, however, also assured the Israeli people that he understands their concerns and fears.

On June 2, just hours before Obama’s interview aired, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the Israeli public that Israel must “first and foremost” rely on itself. He warned that the deal under consideration would “pave the way for Iran to atom bombs.” The following are excerpts from Obama’s interview with Ilana Dayan and Netanyahu’s remarks.
 
QUESTION: There’s a remarkably sincere observation you made once -- you said, “Nothing comes to my desk that is perfectly solvable.”  And you said, “Any given decision I make, I wind up with a 30 to 40 percent chance that it isn’t going to work.”  I’m afraid Israelis cannot afford even three to four percent chance you’re wrong, Mr. President, because if you are, the bomb will hit Tel Aviv first.
 
THE PRESIDENT:  Well, let’s back up on this.  We know that Iran, prior to me coming into office, had gone from a few hundred centrifuges to thousands.  We know that the potential breakout time for Iran, if it chose to build a bomb, is a matter potentially of months today instead of years.   
 
And seeing that, I came in and organized an international coalition -- including countries like Russia and China that tend not to be very sympathetic to sanctions regimes -- and we have imposed the most effective sanctions on Iran over the course of the last five years that has led them to essentially lose a decade, perhaps, of economic growth. 
 
At the time, people were skeptical.  They said, oh, sanctions aren’t going to work.  Then we were able to force Iran to the negotiating table because of the effectiveness of the sanctions.  And I said that in exchange for some modest relief in sanctions, Iran is going to have to freeze its nuclear program, roll back on its stockpiles of very highly enriched uranium -- the very stockpiles that Prime Minister Netanyahu had gone before the United Nations with his picture of the bomb and said that was proof of how dangerous this was -- all that stockpile is gone. 
And in fact, at that time, everybody said, this isn’t going to work.  They’re going to cheat.  They’re not going to abide by it.  And yet, over a year and a half later, we know that they have abided by the letter of it.
 
So we have I think shown that we are able to construct a mechanism, if, in fact, we get an agreement, to verify that all four pathways to a nuclear weapon are shut off.
 
Q: But what if they take the $100 million showered at them after sanctions are lifted and not take them to build movie theaters and hospitals in Tehran, but rather divert it to military use?
 
THE PRESIDENT:  Okay, so that’s a different question, though.  So I just want to separate out the questions.  There’s one critique of a potential nuclear deal which is it won’t hold, and Iran will cheat, and they will get a bomb.  And I have confidence that if, in fact, we arrive at the kind of agreement that I’m looking for, and that was described in Geneva but now has to be memorialized, then we will have cut off their path to a nuclear weapon and we will be able to verify it with unprecedented mechanisms.
 
Now, it may be that Iran is not able to make the necessary concessions for us to know we can verify it --   
 
Q: Then there’s no deal. 
 
THE PRESIDENT:  Then there’s going to be no deal.  But let’s assume there’s a deal.  There is now a second set of arguments, which is you bring down sanctions --
 
Q: Now, that’s wishful thinking --
 
THE PRESIDENT:  -- and they’ve got $100-$150 billion, and now they can do even more mischief around the region.  I would make three points on that.
 
Number one is that we will be putting in place a snapback provision so that if they cheat on the nuclear deal, the sanctions automatically go back into place; we don’t have to ask Mr. Putin’s permission, for example, to put sanctions back. 
 
Number two, we shouldn’t assume that we can perpetuate the sanctions forever anyway.  There’s a shelf life on the sanctions, because the reason the international community agreed was to get to the table to deal with the nuclear issue, not to deal with all of these other issues.  So we will get a diminishing return just on maintaining sanctions.
 
Number three, Mr. Rouhani was elected specifically in order to strengthen the Iranian economy.  There’s enormous political pressure on them -- as I said, they’ve lost a decade of economic growth.  Their economy has been contracting each year.  And it is true that out of $100 billion or $150 billion, of course the IRGC, the Quds Force, they’re going to want to get their piece.  But the fact is, is that the great danger that the region has faced from Iran is not because they have so much money.  Their budget -- their military budget is $15 billion compared to $150 billion for the Gulf States -- I just met with them. 
 
They have a low-tech but very effective mechanism of financing proxies, of creating chaos in regions.  And they’ve also shown themselves, regardless of sanctions, to be willing to finance Hezbollah with rockets and others even in the face of sanctions.
 
So the question then becomes are they going to suddenly be able to finance 10 times the number of Hezbollah fighters?  Probably not.
 
Q: I don’t know if you noticed, Mr. President, but our Prime Minister gave a speech to Congress a few months ago.
 
THE PRESIDENT:  Really?  I didn’t notice.  (Laughter.) 
 
Q: Yes, really.  I was wondering if you noticed that.  But I asked your good friend, David Axelrod, your chief strategist, about it later and he said this was a highly political exercise. Would you agree on that?
 
THE PRESIDENT: As I said before, I think the Prime Minister cares very much about the security of the Israeli people, and I think that in his mind, he is doing what’s right. 
 
I care very much about the people of Israel as well, and in my mind, it is very much in Israel’s interest to make sure that Iran doesn’t have a nuclear weapon.  And I can, I think, demonstrate -- not based on any hope, but on facts and evidence and analysis -- that the best way to prevent Iran from having a nuclear weapon is a verifiable, tough agreement.  A military solution will not fix it, even if the United States participates. It would temporarily slow down an Iranian nuclear program, but it will not eliminate it.
 
Q: Can you even imagine a scenario where Prime Minister Netanyahu, after this deal -- which he says it’s a bad deal, that’s why he came to Congress -- launches a military strike and doesn’t even call you ahead of time?
 
THE PRESIDENT: I won’t speculate on that.  What I can say is -- to the Israeli people -- I understand your concerns and I understand your fears.  But what is the worst scenario is the path that we’re currently on in which there’s no nuclear resolution, and ultimately, we have no way to verify whether Iran has a weapon or not.
 
Sanctions won’t do it.  A military solution is temporary.  The deal that we’re negotiating potentially takes a nuclear weapon off the table for 20 years.  And so when the Prime Minister comes here, I understand he is speaking because he believes that it’s the right thing to do.  But I respectfully disagree with him.  And I think that I can show if, in fact, Iran abides by the deal that we’re outlining now -- and they may not.  They could still walk away and miss this opportunity.

—May 29, 2015 in an interview with Channel 2
 
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
 
“When speaking of Israelis' security I rely first and foremost on ourselves, and proof of this is the agreement emerging between the world powers and Iran.

The deal will “pave the way for Iran to atom bombs” and inject billions of dollars into its economy.

“With that money it can continue to arm our enemies with high trajectory weapons and other arms, and also arm its war and terror machine, which is acting against us and the Middle East, and which is much more dangerous than Islamic State's terror machine, which is also dangerous.”
—June 2, 2015 in remarks at Home Command headquarters
 

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