United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

White House Warns Senate on Iran Bill

On March 14, the White House warned senators against passing the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015, introduced by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-TN). The legislation “would potentially prevent any deal from succeeding by suggesting that Congress must vote to ‘approve’ any deal, and by removing existing sanctions waiver authorities that have already been granted to the President,” Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff Denis McDonough wrote in a letter to Corker. The full text is below.
Dear Chairman Corker:
Thank you for your March 12 letter to the President regarding Iran. I am responding on his behalf. The Administration has welcomed Congress’ important role in the United States’ policy towards Iran and takes seriously our continued engagement with Congress on this issue. Since October 2013, senior Administration officials from the White House, the Departments of State, Treasury, Energy, Defense and the Intelligence Community have conducted more than 200 meetings, hearings, classified briefings, and calls with Senate and House Members and their staffs on Iran, over half of which have been conducted since January 2015. Officials who have participated in these briefings range from the President, Vice President and cabinet officials, to the sanctions and nuclear experts who are members of our negotiating team.
We agree that Congress will have a role to play — and will have to take a vote — as a part of any comprehensive deal that the United States and our international partners reach with Iran. As we have repeatedly said, even if a deal is reached, only Congress can terminate the existing Iran statutory sanctions. We also agree that the existing statutory sanctions should remain in place, even as we suspend some of them using waivers included by Congress in the Iran sanctions statutes that it has enacted, until after Iran has complied with its commitments for an extended period of time, so that we retain the capability to re-impose sanctions if Iran does not comply with a deal, and so that Congress has the benefit of seeing whether Iran lived up to its commitments before taking actions.
However, the legislation you have introduced in the Senate goes well beyond ensuring that Congress has a role to play in any deal with Iran. Instead, the legislation would potentially prevent any deal from succeeding by suggesting that Congress must vote to “approve” any deal, and by removing existing sanctions waiver authorities that have already been granted to the President. We believe that the legislation would likely have a profoundly negative impact on the ongoing negotiations — emboldening Iranian hard-liners, inviting a counter-productive response from the Iranian majiles; differentiating the U.S. position from our allies in the negotiations; and once again calling into question our ability to negotiate this deal. This would therefore complicate the possibility of achieving a peaceful resolution to the Iranian nuclear issue if legislative action is taken before a deal is completed. Moreover, if congressional action is perceived as preventing us from reaching a deal, it will create divisions within the international community, putting at risk the very international cooperation that has been essential to our ability to pressure Iran. Put simply, it would potentially make it impossible to secure international cooperation for additional sanctions, while putting at risk the existing multilateral sanctions regime.
In addition to its impact on the negotiations, this legislation would also set a potentially damaging precedent for constraining future Presidents of either party from pursuing the conduct of essential diplomatic negotiations, making it much harder for future Presidents to negotiate similar political commitments. These factors have led the President to determine that he would veto this legislation, were it to pass the Congress.
It is also important to note that, despite the recent commentary that some of your colleagues addressed to the Iranian leadership, non-binding arrangements — like the deal we are negotiating with Iran and the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, and China, and the European Union — are an essential element of international diplomacy and do not require congressional approval. Presidents from both parties have relied on such arrangements to address sensitive national security matters, including nonproliferation. The United States has implemented numerous similar arms-control and nonproliferation arrangements. A few examples include:
·         The 2013 U.S.-Russia framework to remove chemical weapons from Syria, which was not legally binding and was not subject to congressional approval, outlined the steps for eliminating Syria’s chemical weapons and helped lay the groundwork for a successful multilateral effort to rid the world of these dangerous weapons.
·         A variety of multilateral initiatives, including the Proliferation Security Initiative (a multilateral effort involving over 100 countries aimed at stopping the trafficking of weapons of mass destruction), the Nuclear Suppliers Group Guidelines (a set of principles that govern nuclear trade for peaceful purposes), the Missile Technology Control Regime (a voluntary association of countries that coordinate on export licensing efforts to prevent the proliferation of unmanned delivery systems capable of delivering weapons of mass destruction), the Hague Code of Conduct Against Ballistic Missile Proliferation (a multilateral arrangement involving over 100 countries to curb ballistic missile proliferation worldwide and to further delegitimize such proliferation), the Vienna Declaration on nuclear safety (a 2015 initiative to prevent nuclear accidents and mitigate their radiological consequences), and a series of instruments related to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (including the Helsinki Final Act and the Vienna Document on Confidence- and Security-Building Measures).
·         A variety of bilateral cooperative arrangements — to take a few recent examples, a 2015 exchange of letters with the Government of Vietnam on cooperative threat reduction, a 2014 memorandum of understanding with Canada on nuclear forensics, a memorandum of cooperation between the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and China from 2007, and a 2006 memorandum of understanding between the Department of Energy and China implementing the 123 Agreement.
·         Political commitments that were developed at major multilateral nonproliferation conferences also often result in the development of important, non-binding political commitments. For example, the Nuclear Security Summit hosted by the United States in 2010 resulted in the development of a Communique and Work Plan in which participants committed to ensure effective security of all nuclear materials under their control, to consolidate or reduce the use of weapons-usable materials in civilian applications, and to work cooperatively to advance nuclear security.
These types of arrangements are also common in other areas of diplomacy and foreign policy. To cite just a few examples: the Atlantic Charter, negotiated by President Roosevelt in 1941, was a joint declaration with Great Britain addressing objectives for World War II and the post-war international order. The Shanghai Communique, negotiated by President Nixon in 1972, was a joint declaration with China on principles governing bilateral relations and led to the normalization of relations. Other examples, which are too numerous to list in this letter, include bilateral commitments on issues ranging from foreign taxation to intelligence cooperation and defense measures. Additionally, the deal we are negotiating will allow us to retain significant leverage, as Iran would face severe consequences for any violation since we would have the capacity to swiftly re-impose punishing sanctions if Iran does not meet its commitments.
The United Nations Security Council will also have a role to play in any deal with Iran. Just as it is true that only Congress can terminate U.S. statutory sanctions on Iran, only the Security Council can terminate the Security Council’s sanctions on Iran. Because the principal negotiators of an arrangement with Iran are the five permanent members of the Security Council, we anticipate that the Security Council would pass a resolution to register its support for any deal and increase its international legitimacy. A resolution would also increase the international pressure on Iran to live up to the deal and would expand the risks if they failed to do so.
The Administration’s request to the Congress is simple: let us complete the negotiations before the Congress acts on legislation. The Administration is committed to sharing the details and technical documents related to a long-term comprehensive deal with Congress. If we successfully negotiate a framework by the end of this month, and a final deal by the end of June, we expect a robust debate in Congress. We will aggressively seek public and congressional support for a deal — if we reach one — because we believe a good deal is far better than the alternatives available to the United States. We understand that Congress will make its own determinations about how to respond, but we do not believe that the country’s interests are served by congressional attempts to weigh in prematurely on this sensitive and consequential ongoing international negotiation aimed at achieving a goal that we all share: using diplomacy to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.
I look forward to continuing our dialogue on this important issue.

Denis McDonough
Assistant to the President and
Chief of Staff
Click here for a PDF version.

UN Angle on Nuclear Deal

One of the major questions emerging about a nuclear deal with Iran is what role the United Nations might play in endorsing or codifying it in a Security Council Resolution. U.S. officials have suggested that the deal would not exactly be legally binding, referencing the 2013 U.S.-Russian framework on removing chemical weapons from Syria. That plan was endorsed by the U.N. Security Council. The possibility of a similar arrangement has become a source of debate, as reflected in the following statements and letters.

Senator Bob Corker (R-TN)
Dear Mr. President:
In recent days, senior members of your administration—including Vice President Joe Biden—have stated that your administration is negotiating a nuclear agreement with Iran that you intend to “take effect without congressional approval.”  Yesterday, at a hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Secretary of State John Kerry alluded to this same concept.
These statements stand in stark contrast to the repeated assertions made by your administration—including Secretary Kerry—that any deal with Iran would have to “pass muster with Congress.”
As you are also aware, there is significant and growing bipartisan support for Congress to consider and, as appropriate, vote on any agreement that seeks to relieve the very statutory sanctions imposed by Congress that were instrumental in bringing Iran to the negotiating table. 
There are now reports that your administration is contemplating taking an agreement, or aspects of it, to the United Nations Security Council for a vote.  Enabling the United Nations to consider an agreement or portions of it, while simultaneously threatening to veto legislation that would enable Congress to do the same, is a direct affront to the American people and seeks to undermine Congress’s appropriate role.
Please advise us as to whether you are considering going to the United Nations Security Council without coming to Congress first.
Bob Corker                                                              
—March 12, 2015 in a letter
Vice President Joe Biden
Around the world, America’s influence depends on its ability to honor its commitments. Some of these are made in international agreements approved by Congress. However, as the authors of this letter must know, the vast majority of our international commitments take effect without Congressional approval. And that will be the case should the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia, China, and Germany reach an understanding with Iran. There are numerous similar cases. The recent U.S.-Russia framework [which included a U.N. Security Council resolution] to remove chemical weapons from Syria is only one recent example. Arrangements such as these are often what provide the protections that U.S. troops around the world rely on every day. They allow for the basing of our forces in places like Afghanistan. They help us disrupt the proliferation by sea of weapons of mass destruction. They are essential tools to the conduct of our foreign policy, and they ensure the continuity that enables the United States to maintain our credibility and global leadership even as Presidents and Congresses come and go.
—March 9, 2015 in a statement
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif

He emphasized that if the current negotiation with P5+1 [Britain, China, France, Germany Russia and the United States] result in a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, it will not be a bilateral agreement between Iran and the US, but rather one that will be concluded with the participation of five other countries, including all permanent members of the Security Council, and will also be endorsed by a Security Council resolution.
—March 9, 2015 in a press release from Iran’s U.N. mission
Secretary of State John Kerry
“We’ve been clear from the beginning: We’re not negotiating a, quote, legally binding plan.”
“We’re negotiating a plan that will have in it the capacity for enforcement. We don’t even have diplomatic relations with Iran right now.”
“The vast majority of international arrangements and agreements do not” require ratification by two-thirds of the Senate.
“And around the world today we have all kinds of executive agreements that we deal with… any number of noncontroversial, broadly supported foreign policy goals.”
—March 11, 2015 in a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing
“We are negotiating under the auspices to some degree of the United Nations. So, just as Congress has to vote to lift sanctions -- so Congress does have a vote -- so does the United Nations have to lift some sanctions at some point in time.”
—March 15, 2015 in an interview with CBS News
National Security Council Spokesperson Bernadette Meehan
The United States will not be “converting U.S. political commitments under a deal with Iran into legally binding obligations through a UN Security Council resolution.”
“[W]e would fully expect the UNSC to ‘endorse’ any deal with Iran and encourage its full implementation so as to resolve international concerns about Iran’s nuclear program.”
—March 12, 2015 in a statement to BuzzFeed News
State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki
“[I]f we’re able to reach a joint comprehensive plan of action between the P5+1 and Iran, an endorsement vote would be held by the UN Security Council, and that should really come as no surprise given the permanent members of the Security Council are the ones negotiating the deal with Iran. 
“[G]iven that these sanctions were put in place through UN Security Council resolutions, they would need to – there would be action required to pull them back.  But of course the timing and how that would work is not yet determined. 
“We would expect to retain many of the UN Security Council provisions even under a deal with Iran.  Obviously, they’re not all related to nuclear sanctions.
“Any UN Security Council resolution would likely include elements that would be adopted under Chapter 7 as any decision to suspend or modify the sanctions that were previously imposed by the council under Chapter 7 would require new council action under the chapter. 
“Obviously, there would be action that would be taken by Congress at the appropriate time to roll back sanctions that are U.S. sanctions.
“[T]he Security Council would not impose new binding obligations on the United States that would limit our flexibility in any way to respond to future Iranian noncompliance.
—March 13, 2015 in a press briefing
“This [U.S.-Russia] framework was not legally binding and was not subject to congressional approval. It outlined steps for eliminating Syria’s chemical weapons and helped lay the groundwork for successful multilateral efforts to move forward.”
It “went to the U.N. to the Security Council vote.”
—March 10, 2015 in a press briefing

Obama Renews State of Emergency with Iran

The following is the full text of the White House press release and President Obama’s letter to Congress on the renewal of the national emergency with respect to Iran.
On March 15, 1995, by Executive Order 12957, the President declared a national emergency with respect to Iran, pursuant to the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (50 U.S.C. 1701-1706), to deal with the unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States constituted by the actions and policies of the Government of Iran. On May 6, 1995, the President issued Executive Order 12959, imposing comprehensive sanctions on Iran to further respond to this threat. On August 19, 1997, the President issued Executive Order 13059, consolidating and clarifying the previous orders. I took additional steps pursuant to this national emergency in Executive Order 13553 of September 28, 2010, Executive Order 13574 of May 23, 2011, Executive Order 13590 of November 20, 2011, Executive Order 13599 of February 5, 2012, Executive Order 13606 of April 22, 2012, Executive Order 13608 of May 1, 2012, Executive Order 13622 of July 30, 2012, Executive Order 13628 of October 9, 2012, and Executive Order 13645 of June 3, 2013.
While the Joint Plan of Action (JPOA) between the P5+1 and Iran that went into effect on January 20, 2014, and was renewed by mutual consent of the P5+1 and Iran on July 19, 2014, and November 24, 2014, marks the first time in a decade that Iran has agreed to and taken specific actions that stop the advance and roll back key elements of its nuclear program, certain actions and policies of the Government of Iran continue to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States. For this reason, the national emergency declared on March 15, 1995, must continue in effect beyond March 15, 2015. Therefore, in accordance with section 202(d) of the National Emergencies Act (50 U.S.C. 1622(d)), I am continuing for 1 year the national emergency with respect to Iran declared in Executive Order 12957. The emergency declared in Executive Order 12957 constitutes an emergency separate from that declared on November 14, 1979, by Executive Order 12170. This renewal, therefore, is distinct from the emergency renewal of November 2014.
This notice shall be published in the Federal Register and transmitted to the Congress.
March 11, 2015.
# # #
March 11, 2015
Dear Mr. Speaker: (Dear Mr. President:)
Section 202(d) of the National Emergencies Act (50 U.S.C. 1622(d)) provides for the automatic termination of a national emergency unless, within 90 days prior to the anniversary date of its declaration, the President publishes in the Federal Register and transmits to the Congress a notice stating that the emergency is to continue in effect beyond the anniversary date. In accordance with this provision, I have sent to the Federal Register for publication the enclosed notice stating that the national emergency with respect to Iran that was declared on March 15, 1995, is to continue in effect beyond March 15, 2015.
The crisis between the United States and Iran resulting from certain actions and policies of the Government of Iran has not been resolved. The Joint Plan of Action (JPOA) between the P5+1 (the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Russia and China) and Iran went into effect on January 20, 2014, and was renewed by mutual consent of the P5+1 and Iran on July 19, 2014, and November 24, 2014, extending the temporary sanctions relief provided under the JPOA through June 30, 2015. This marks the first time in a decade that Iran has agreed to take, and has taken specific actions that stop the advance and roll back key elements of its nuclear program. In return for Iran's actions on its nuclear program, the P5+1, in coordination with the European Union, are taking actions to implement the limited, temporary, and reversible sanctions relief outlined in the JPOA.
Nevertheless, certain actions and policies of the Government of Iran are contrary to the interests of the United States in the region and continue to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States. For these reasons, I have determined that it is necessary to continue the national emergency declared with respect to Iran and to maintain in force comprehensive sanctions against Iran to deal with this threat.
# # #

Photos: Soleimani in Battle for Tikrit

Iran has made no effort to hide its role in the battle against the Islamic State in Iraq, most recently in Tikrit. General Qassem Soleimani, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s elite Qods Force, has been directing and advising a combination of the Iraqi military and Shiite militias. Photos of him on the front lines have been widely shared on Twitter and other social media networks.

Iraq’s first major assault on Tikrit, a predominantly Sunni city, began on March 1. Tikrit, 90 miles north of Baghdad, is a key point between Baghdad and Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city. The following is a sampling of pictures of Soleimani.
For more information on Iran’s involvement in Iraq, see:

Iran & Region II: Salvaging Iraq by Alireza Nader
Tags: Offbeat

The Test in Tikrit

Robin Wright (for The New Yorker)

“Victory [in Tikrit] will not be decided on the battlefield. More important to the ultimate success of the campaign will be how Baghdad proceeds politically in Saddam’s home town—both in creating a climate where the Sunnis will not feel defeated and in using Tikrit as a model for more inclusive and tolerant rule of Iraq’s diverse communities.”
Click here to read the full article in The New Yorker.

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