On September 29, top officials from Iran and the United States explained their goals and reasoning in the first-ever talks between their foreign ministers two days earlier. The following are transcripts of an interviews with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on ABC’s “This Week,” Secretary of State John Kerry on CBS “60 Minutes” and U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice on CNN’s “GPS with Fareed Zakaria.”
RICE: Well it's too soon to know that, Fareed. What happened earlier this week is that Secretary Kerry, joined by the foreign ministers of Russia and China, the U.K., France and Germany, met -- and, of course, the E.U. Chief Negotiator Cathy Ashton, met for the first time at the foreign minister level with the new Iranian Foreign Minister.
That was a constructive discussion, but it really was a scene- setter in which the Iranian's underscored their commitment not to pursue a nuclear weapon, but peaceful nuclear energy where we and others underscored that Iran had to meet its international obligations under Security Council Resolutions and that the sanctions would remain until those obligations were satisfied.
And, yet, both sides also committed to continue the diplomacy, this month -- next month, rather, in mid October in Geneva, where the negotiations will begin in earnest and the sides will have the opportunity to pick up where they left off some months ago.
Hopefully, with a new Iranian negotiating position and one that is consistent with the message that President Rouhani delivered across New York this week which is that they sense a degree of urgency to resolving this, that they are, indeed, committed to doing so at the negotiating table and that they only seek nuclear power for peaceful purposes.
Obviously, we and others in the international community have every reason to be skeptical of that and we need to test it. And any agreement must be fully verifiable and enforceable.
ZAKARIA: The president said, both in his U.N. speech and in the remarks on Friday, that he respected -- the United States respects Iran's right to "access peaceful nuclear energy."
The wording made me think that it's not clear that he is saying that he respects their right to actually enrich uranium which is part of -- which could be part of a peaceful nuclear energy program.
Is it the position that the United States that Iran cannot enrich uranium?
RICE: Well, Fareed, those words were chosen very deliberately. The United States has not spoken about a right of Iran to enrich. We have said that, as a member of the NPT, in the context of Iran meeting its international obligations.
That means fulfilling it's responsibilities under the IAEA resolutions as well as the U.N. Security Council resolutions, that once it's done that, we would recognize that it, like every other nation, as a good standing member of the NPT has a right to the use of peaceful nuclear energy.
Now, that is obviously a very long-held position and it's not a new position expressed by the United States or by others. But we're some distance from that being achievable obviously because right now Iran remains in noncompliance with its obligations under the Security Council resolutions.
ZAKARIA: Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel set out conditions that he believed Iran would have to fulfill for the sanctions to be lifted. Are those conditions also the United States'? Are they similar?
RICE: Obviously, we are in constant contact and communication with our Israeli allies and other key allies in this process. And we have been largely united in agreeing on the process going forward and on what it necessary to give us a shared degree of confidence.
And when I say us I mean all of us in the international community a shared degree of confidence that, at the end of this process, Iran's nuclear program, if there is to be one, is only for peaceful purposes.
I'm not going to get into the contours of a negotiation that really hasn't gotten under way in any meaningful way, but rather to say that we have been on the same page in the P5-Plus-1 and with Israel and other partners in the region and, indeed, within the entire international community as enshrined in Security Council resolutions on insisting on the steps that need to be taken.
ZAKARIA: One of the things the president talked about on Friday was also the obstinacy of Congress in dealing with some issues. Can -- wouldn't it be fair for the Iranians to look at all this and say even if we were to comply, the Iranians, President Obama will not be able to get Congress to lift the sanctions.
There are 10 Acts of Congress and those are the most harsh sanctions on Iran. Will Congress lift the sanctions if President Obama says Iran has moved and negotiated in good faith?
RICE: Well look, Fareed, we've worked in good collaboration with Congress on the issue of Iran over the course of many years. There are many layers of sanctions, as you know.
There are the multilateral sanctions that we worked very hard to achieve and achieved an unprecedented degree of pressure in the United Nations Security Council. There's sanctions that the European Union has imposed and there's sanctions that we have taken on a national basis, legislated by Congress, but also a number that have been taken on the basis of executive action.
So, we would obviously be working very closely with Congress through the course of any negotiation. And if it were to bear fruit, we would be working to bring Congress along with us.
The goals have always been the same. The goals of our national sanctions, as well as the multilateral sanctions, are not to be an end in themselves, but to supply sufficient pressure so that Iran feels compelled to give up its nuclear program and any ambition for nuclear weapons at the negotiating table.
And I would think that if that goal were achieved in a verifiable and sustainable manner, that Congress would be able to see that it had contributed very significantly towards getting to that place.
ZAKARIA: Susan, a quick question before we go to our break. Is this just a nuclear deal with Iran or is there a prospect of actual normalization of relations between the United States and Iran.
RICE: Well, Fareed, I really wouldn't want to get too far out in front. We've had, you know, just on Friday the first conversation between President Obama and the new president of Iran, the first communication in almost 35 years.
Secretary Kerry met with his counterpart, first meaningful exchange at that level in the same period of time. And the negotiations really at the P5-Plus-1 have not even begun in a substantive way under the new leadership in Iran.
So, it's way too soon to presume either the prospect of an agreement on the nuclear program which we hope to be able to achieve, but we're quite sober about the potential for that.
And that, obviously, would need to be a first step before going on to discuss other aspects of the U.S.-Iranian relationship which has a long way to go to get to the state of normalization.
But, obviously, ultimately if we could get there, that would be in the interest of the Iranian people, whom the United States and the American people have had long-standing respect for.
It's a very talented group of people in a country with a rich history and if we could have a peaceful resolution of the nuclear program and an end to Iran's support for terrorism and other behavior that has concerned us over many years, then we could begin a serious discussion about the future.
ZAKARIA: Ambassador Rice, the president said that if Syria does not comply with the U.N. resolution about chemical weapons, there will be consequences. But there are no consequences mapped out in the resolution. That was something the Russians did not agree to.
So, does that mean the United States would take unilateral military action if Syria does not comply?
RICE: It means certainly that we reserve that option, Fareed, to take whatever enforcement action we deem appropriate, whether military or otherwise.
But I think it's important for people to understand what this resolution accomplishes. In fact, it does say, in very clear-cut terms, that if there is noncompliance on the part of the Syrians, there will be action taken under Chapter 7 of the United Nations Charter.
Chapter 7 is the only chapter of the charter that calls for and allows for enforcement action.
And, obviously, in any circumstance, we would need to come back to the Security Council if we sought multilateral endorsement of such enforcement action. And, in the circumstances, have a negotiation about what that action ought to be.
But it's very significant that this strong and binding resolution which holds Syria to the obligations that the United States and Russia negotiated in Geneva will, in fact, envision, very explicitly, further consequences in the case of noncompliance.
That was a very strong element of the resolution that was negotiated by Secretary Kerry with the Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov going back to Geneva a couple weeks ago.
ZAKARIA: In the -- inherent in this resolution is the necessity for President Assad to be a kind of partner in the sense that he will have to implement this resolution and cooperate with the U.N. inspectors.
And, yet, the position of the United States government, as expressed by the president, is regime change, Assad has to go. How can you do both at the same time, partner with him to destroy the chemical weapons and, at the same time, be trying to get rid of him?
RICE: Well, first of all, Fareed, the position of the United States has been and remains very clear, and that is that Assad must go. He has lost his legitimacy. He has gassed his own people. He has inflicted horrific violence on his country that's spilled over into the region. So, our strong view is that there isn't a viable future for Syria that is governed by Assad.
Now, the resolution and the agreement doesn't speak about Assad as an individual. It speaks about the requirements and the obligations of the Syrian government and it's an important distinction.
Whatever Syrian government is there near-term or in the future will have the same obligation to implement these commitments and this resolution faithfully. So, this is not specific to Assad. It's specific to what is now the Syrian regime and those obligations would redound to any successor government.
ZAKARIA: There was a report -- there have been several reports that some of the key rebel groups in Syria, one led by Mohammed al- Najjar which is just quite a large one, have broken ties with the moderate political opposition, the opposition in exile, and have cast their lot with the al-Qaeda affiliates.
Do you -- does the administration still believe that the vast majority of the Syrian rebels are moderates and democrats even as some of these groups are announcing the need for an Islamic state?
RICE: Well, Fareed, there have long been very significant divisions within the opposition, as you well know. There have been those that are moderate, in our judgment, those that are extremists and those that are somewhere in between and that remains the case.
The U.S. policy has long been to support moderate opposition and we are ramping our support, political, economic and otherwise, to that moderate opposition including its military component on the ground.
We've been very careful to try to avoid in any way strengthening the extremist element of the opposition.
And while the fragmentation that we're seeing adds to the complexity of the situation on the ground, in some respects is clarifying and in some respects it makes it easier for the United States to ensure that the support we're providing is going exactly to those people that we intend it to go.
ZAKARIA: If Assad does not comply and if Congress does not pass an authorization or approve a resolution approving of the strike, as seemed likely the last time around, would the president still use his powers as Commander-In-Chief to authorize a strike?
RICE: The president has been very clear that we remain postured to act if the choice is taken by him and if the necessity arises. We're not taking any options off the table.
And the president has been very clear that, as Commander-In-Chief he has the authority to act in the interest of the United States and to use force if necessary.
The poll found that 87 percent of Democrats and 68 percent of Republicans surveyed supported talks with the Islamic Republic. The next round of negotiations between Iran and the world’s major powers is due to begin on October 15-16 in Geneva.
"Large majorities in all major demographic categories favor negotiations with Iran over their nuclear program, including 87% of Democrats and 68% of Republicans. This is nothing new for the U.S. public — in 2009, virtually the same number of Americans said they favored negotiations with Iran," said CNN Polling Director Keating Holland.
The head of the Iranian Parliament’s Foreign Affairs committee also backed the first contact. “Obama and Rouhani’s telephone conversation shows Iran’s power. When the U.S. president wants to talk with our president, it demonstrates that Iran’s position in the world is important,” said Alaeddin Boroujerdi told reporters in Tehran. Boroujerdi is considered a hardliner.
Former speaker of parliament Gholam Ali Haddad Adel, a hardliner who ran against Rouhani in the June election, said the telephone call with Obama “can create an atmosphere for Iran to become more active in the international arena.”
Not everyone was supportive, however, Revolutionary Guards chief Mohammad Ali Jafari said that Rouhani should have refused to take a call from his American counterpart. But just as he refused to meet Obama, he should also have refused to speak with him on the telephone and should have waited for concrete action by the United States," Jafari told the Tasnimnews.com website.
The Guards chief also issued a thinly veiled warning to Rouhani that the damage could be “repaired.” He told the news agency, "If we see errors being made by officials, the revolutionary forces will issue the necessary warnings.”
The Guards, charged with protecting the revolution, appear to be taking a harder line than the political elite. Gen. Amir-Ali Hadjizadeh, who heads the Revolutionary guards air corps, said, "US hostility can't be forgotten with a phone call and a smile."
“We are taking this as America’s souvenir to the Iranian people,” Iranian Vice President Mohammad Ali Najafi told CNN. “I adamantly believe in cultural diplomacy, and I believe the thing that could improve relations between the U.S. and Iran after the years and softens the harshness of his relationship is cultural diplomacy.” Najafi, who is one of several vice presidents, is also head of the Cultural Heritage and Tourism Organization.
On September 29, President Hassan Rouhani briefed Iranians on his visit to the United Nations and his phone conversation with President Barack Obama. Rouhani told Obama that the “Iranian people have opened a window of opportunity, but that there is not much time for” resolving the dispute over Tehran’s controversial nuclear program. Obama said that he acknowledges the nuclear rights of the Iranian nation and is committed to accelerating diplomacy. The following video, with English subtitles, was posted by Meet Iran.
President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discussed Iran and the new U.S.-Iran diplomacy at the White House on September 30. The following are the relevant excerpts of their remarks on Iran.
On September 27, President Barack Obama revealed that he had a phone conversation with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. “The two of us discussed our ongoing efforts to reach an agreement over Iran’s nuclear program,” Obama said at a White House briefing. The exchange was the first direct communication between an American and Iranian president since the 1979 revolution.
Resolving the dispute over Tehran’s controversial nuclear program could “serve as a major step forward in a new relationship between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Obama said. The two presidents spoke while Rouhani was in a car on his way to the airport. Obama communicated his deep respect for the Iranian people and emphasized the “unique opportunity to make progress with the new leadership in Tehran.” He also apologized for the horrendous New York traffic and wished Rouhani a safe journey home.
President Rouhani told his counterpart that they can “rapidly solve” the nuclear dispute with sufficient political will. “We’re hopeful about what we will see from the P5+1 [six major world powers] and your government, particularly in the coming weeks and months,” he said. “Have a good day Mr. President,” Rouhani said. Obama wished him well in Farsi.
Rouhani’s office immediately tweeted excerpts from the conversation and posted a summary on the president’s website. The following are tweets from @HassanRouhani followed by Obama’s remarks and Iran’s summary of the conversation.
I’ve directed Secretary Kerry to continue pursuing this diplomatic effort with the Iranian government. We had constructive discussions yesterday in New York with our partners -- the European Union, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia and China -- together with the Iranian Foreign Minister. Going forward, President Rouhani and I have directed our teams to continue working expeditiously, in cooperation with the P5-plus-1, to pursue an agreement. And throughout this process, we’ll stay in close touch with our friends and allies in the region, including Israel.
We’re mindful of all the challenges ahead. The very fact that this was the first communication between an American and Iranian President since 1979 underscores the deep mistrust between our countries, but it also indicates the prospect of moving beyond that difficult history.
I do believe that there is a basis for a resolution. Iran’s Supreme Leader has issued a fatwa against the development of nuclear weapons. President Rouhani has indicated that Iran will never develop nuclear weapons. I have made clear that we respect the right of the Iranian people to access peaceful nuclear energy in the context of Iran meeting its obligations. So the test will be meaningful, transparent, and verifiable actions, which can also bring relief from the comprehensive international sanctions that are currently in place.
Resolving this issue, obviously, could also serve as a major step forward in a new relationship between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran -- one based on mutual interests and mutual respect. It would also help facilitate a better relationship between Iran and the international community, as well as others in the region -- one that would help the Iranian people fulfill their extraordinary potential, but also help us to address other concerns that could bring greater peace and stability to the Middle East.
A path to a meaningful agreement will be difficult, and at this point, both sides have significant concerns that will have to be overcome. But I believe we’ve got a responsibility to pursue diplomacy, and that we have a unique opportunity to make progress with the new leadership in Tehran. I also communicated to President Rouhani my deep respect for the Iranian people.
As I said before, this comes on the same day that we can accomplish a major diplomatic breakthrough on Syria, as the United Nations Security Council will vote on a resolution that would require the Assad regime to put its chemical weapons under international control so they can ultimately be destroyed. This binding resolution will ensure that the Assad regime must keep its commitments, or face consequences. We’ll have to be vigilant about following through, but this could be a significant victory for the international community, and demonstrate how strong diplomacy can allow us to secure our country and pursue a better world.