United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

Biden Defends Blueprint for Iran Deal

On April 30, Vice President Joe Biden pushed back against critics of the blueprint for a nuclear deal with Iran. He argued that an agreement would have the “toughest transparency and verification requirements, which represent the best possible check against a secret path to the bomb.” The following are excerpts from his remarks at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s Soref Symposium Gala Dinner.

We all know the risk that a nuclear-armed Iran would pose -- a regional arms race; a major blow to the prohibition against nuclear proliferation; the risk that a future crisis could escalate into a nuclear war; and a shield behind which Iran would surely hide and its proxies further destabilize the region and threaten Israel.
 
Let me make something absolutely clear.  I know I’m always characterized as a friend of Israel and sometimes it’s not suggested in as positive a way as I feel it.  But Israel is absolutely right to be worried about the world’s most dangerous weapons falling in the hands of a nation whose leaders dream openly of a world without Israel.  So the criticism that Israel is too concerned I find preposterous.  They have reason to be concerned.  And the fact of the matter is that I think we should get beyond the notion that there’s anything remotely acceptable about Israel not being concerned.
 
And quite frankly, that’s why the President, President Obama, decided for the first time -- people forget this -- to make it an explicit, declared policy of the United States of America, no such policy existed before President Obama uttered it -- that all instruments of American power to prevent -— not contain, not contain -— to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran would be used to prevent that from happening.
 
And he made sure that something existed that didn't exist before, that our military had the capacity and the capability to execute the mission, if it was required.  When we took office, we understood the threat, like all of you.  But we also understood that no approach to date had done anything other than move Iran closer to a nuclear weapon.  Nothing had addressed Iran’s march.
 
As a matter of fact, when we took office, the United States did not have the international support we needed to deal with Iran.  If time permitted, I could quote for you quote after quote from around the world that we -- the United States, many in the international [sic] felt that we, the United States —- rightly or wrongly -— the United States was the problem, not Iran was the problem.  That limited our options considerably, our ability to generate international pressure.  We were viewed in the Middle East before we took office as the isolated party.
In the interim, nearly every aspect of Iran’s program raced ahead.
 
So we embarked on a new strategy which had two purposes.  One was to unite the world behind our approach making it clear that a genuine diplomatic path existed for Iran; and secondly, putting in force what few believed could happen -- sanctions -- sanctions that would bring them to the negotiating table.
 
And we created space to do two things.  First, it allowed us to change how the world viewed the problem even if there were no sanctions and we had to act.  By letting the world know that we were extending the hand -- if they wanted to negotiate -- created a different environment in which we could operate, demonstrating a willingness to explore diplomacy in good faith meant that, whatever action we might ultimately be required to take to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran, we’d be able to take it with significantly greater support -- international support, support from the rest of the world.  We accomplished that.
 
Second, we thought there was a chance that, just a chance with incredibly tough sanctions that Iran might actually take meaningful action to address the world’s concerns about their nuclear program.
 
So after Iran initially rejected the President’s outstretched hands, working with Congress and our international partners, we put together not only the toughest sanctions regime in history, but one of the most broad-based.  If we were honest with ourselves, a number of you would say -- acknowledge you were surprised that not only our allies joined us, but Russia and China joined us, which united the United Nations Security Council behind even tougher sanctions that the Council passed.  It wasn’t just the major powers of the P5+1, but energy-hungry nations like India, Japan, and South Korea.  They did their part, as well.  That’s what made sanctions so profound.
 
And we kept faith with this approach for six and a half years.  Soon, it was Iran -— not America -— that was isolated.  And over time, our choices created the conditions that made diplomacy possible.
 
Meanwhile, inside Iran, sanctions helped shape the political climate that led Iranians to elect a leader who campaigned on the need to break Iran’s international isolation.
Finally, Iran began to talk.  And talks grew into an interim deal.  When it did, people predicted the sky would fall; some of my best friends in the region; Iran would cheat and sanctions would crumble.  But the deal held, and so did the sanctions.  In fact, many at home and in the region who initially saw the interim deal as a historic mistake, I think was the quote, saw it as important part of stopping a nuclear-armed Iran.
 
And now we have a historic opportunity to forge an enduring peaceful solution.  I know Jack Lew went through the parameters of the potential deal in detail.  And I know I’m keeping you from your main course. So I won’t go into all the detail.  But let me say, as you heard last night, we’re pursuing a deal that would verifiably block each of Iran’s paths to a bomb, through a break-out attempt from the known nuclear facilities at Natanz, Fordow, Arak; or a sneak out from unknown sites. 
 
A lot of ink has been spilled on this deal.  Some in favor, some against, some thoughtful, some misleading.  So tonight, I want to directly address some of the concerns that I’ve heard.
 
First, some have worried that the President and administration are willing -- even eager -— to settle for a deal so badly that we’ll sign a bad deal.  The right deal is far better than no deal.  But if what’s on the table doesn’t meet the President’s requirements, there will be no deal. 
And a final deal must effectively cut off Iran’s uranium, plutonium, and covert pathways to the bomb.  If it doesn’t, there will be no deal.  
 
The final deal must ensure a breakout timeline of at least one year for at least decade or more.  If it doesn’t, no deal. 
 
And a final deal must include phased sanction relief, calibrated against Iran taking meaningful steps to constrain their program.  If they do not, no deal. 
 
And a final deal must provide verifiable assurances the international community is demanding to ensure Iran’s program is exclusively peaceful going forward.  If it doesn’t, no deal. 
The second argument I hear is that no deal is worth the paper it’s written on, because Iran will simply cheat.  And it’s true that Iran could try to cheat, whether there’s a deal or not.  Now they didn’t cheat under the interim deal -— the Joint Plan of Action -— as many were certain they would.  But they certainly have in the past and it would not surprise anyone if they tried again.  However, if they did try to cheat, under a deal that we're talking about, they would be far more likely to be caught.  Because as this deal goes forward, we’ll also put in place the toughest transparency and verification requirements, which represent the best possible check against a secret path to the bomb.
 
Iran will be required to implement the Additional Protocols, allowing IAEA inspectors to visit not only declared nuclear facilities, but undeclared sites where suspicious, clandestine work is suspected.
 
Folks, let me tell you what this deal would do in relation to intrusive inspections:  Not only would Iran be required to allow 24/7 eyes on the nuclear sites you’ve heard of -— Fordow and Natantz and Arak -- and the ability to challenge suspect locations, every link in their nuclear supply chain will be under surveillance.
 
For the next 20 to 25 years, inspectors will have access to Iran’s uranium mines and uranium mills, centrifuge production sites, assembly and storage facilities; all purchases of sensitive equipment will be monitored.
 
And, as part of the transparency requirements under the final deal, Iran will have to address the IAEA concerns about the possible military dimensions of Iran’s past nuclear research.
No other option addresses concerns about potential for a covert Iranian program -— or Iranian cheating -— as well.  More sanctions, as some are calling for, in the absence of international support, if the P5+1 doesn't support them, will result in the loss of sanctions, backsliding on the access we already have to Iran’s program.  Even military action is no panacea for a secret program -- if there is one -— since you can’t target what you don’t know exists.  So this deal is not about trust.  It’s about verification. 
 
And if at any point Iran breaks any of the commitments made in the agreement, which we have not arrived at yet.  We have a framework.  All these things in the framework we expect to be -- to have every t crossed and i dotted.  If not, there will be no deal.  They are much more likely to be detected if they were to cheat, and we’ll have more time to respond, by snapping back sanctions or taking other steps to enforce compliance.
 
And there will be a clear procedure in the final deal that allows both the U.N. and unilateral sanctions to snap back without needing to cajole lots of other countries -– including Russia or China –- to support it.  That will be written in the final deal.
 
And if Iran resumes its pursuit of nuclear weapons, no option available today will be off the table.  As a matter of fact, the options will be greatly increased because we will know so much more.
 
Third, some have said that because some of the constraints in this deal expire over time, this deal “paves” Iran’s path to a bomb.  Let’s get something straight so we don't kid each other.  They already have paved a path to a bomb’s worth of material.  Iran could get there now if they walked away in two to three months without a deal. 
 
Under the deal we’re negotiating now, we radically alter that timetable.  For the next 10 years, Iran’s centrifuges would be cut by two-thirds, from 19,000 currently installed to 6,000.  Only 5,000 of these would be enriching at Natanz; all the most -- all being only the most basic IR-1 models.  There would be no enrichment permitted at Fordow. 
 
Iran will also immediately be required to reduce by 98 percent the remaining stockpile of low-enriched uranium.  And under the final deal contemplated, Iran also will be required to have no more than 300 kilograms of uranium enriched to below 5 percent for the next 15 years.  You can't make a bomb out of that.  That’s a small fraction of what would be required if Iran enriched it further, up to 90 percent for a single nuclear weapon. 
 
In contrast, without this deal, they already have enough material -— if further enriched -— for as many as eight nuclear bombs.  Already, right now, as I speak to you.  The result if the final deal is concluded, for a decade, breakout time for one weapon’s worth of highly enriched uranium would be extended from the current two to three months to no less than a year.  And for years after that, stockpile limitations and other constraints on Iran’s enrichment program would produce a longer breakout timetable than exists today.
 
Under the proposed deal, the Arak reactor currently under construction will be redesigned to produce zero weapons-grade plutonium.  And that's easy to see.  The spent fuel will be required to be shipped out of Iran for the life of the reactor.  And Iran will be barred from building the reprocessing capabilities needed to extract bomb-grade material from plutonium.
Taken together, these measures close off Iran’s plutonium path forever.  No other option -– not more sanctions and not military action –- would provide this kind of time.
 
And by the way, if we’re viewed as walking away from what is considered a reasonable deal by our partners in favor of a unilateral, maximalist positions, we will lose international support that our sanctions regime depends on.  Because unilateral U.S. sanctions long ago ceased to be enough to ratchet up the pressure.  That's not what is hurting Iran so badly.
 
And as I said:  If down the road, Iran resumes its pursuit of nuclear weapons, no option available today will be off the table to handle the threat.  None.  Our technological capability increases every day and the additional knowledge we’d acquire would be significantly more than we have now.
 
 Take all this together, it’s clear:  Those who say the deal paves Iran’s path to the bomb -— respectfully -— they don't get it.  They’re wrong.  Remember what I said the path has already been paved.  If they walk away today, in two to three months, they have enough highly enriched uranium, if they chose to, to make up to [sic] eight nuclear weapons.  As a former respected Israel head of military intelligence, [sic] Mossad, wrote about the political framework we arrived at, he said:
 
“It contains important achievements for the major powers in terms of setting back the Iranian nuclear program and imposing key restrictions on future development of the Iranian nuclear program as well as unprecedented supervision.”
 
He’s a former head of Mossad[sic].
 
Finally, there is the myth that a nuclear deal between the United States and Iran enables Iran to gain dominance inside the Middle East.  Folks, this isn’t a grand bargain between America and Iran that addresses all the differences between us.  This is a nuclear bargain between Britain, France, Russia, China, Germany, the EU, America, and Iran -— one that reduces the risk of nuclear war and makes the region and the world safer as a result. 
 
It’s not a bet on Iran changing its stripes.  All of you know that Iran is not a monolith.  There is significant debate within Iran about its future.  Some want to dominate the region via militant proxies.  Others want more normal relations with the outside world.  Many of those helped elect Rouhani.
 
But you see, that debate being fought out inside Iran is being fought out inside Iran.  It’s not the premise upon which this deal is made.  This deal is solid, worthwhile, and enforceable regardless of the outcome of that internal debate in Iran.  And it’s true we did not precondition the deal on Iran renouncing its proxies or recognizing Israel.  And we don't ask Saudi Arabia to recognize Israel.  But we passionately believe that Iran must eventually do those things.  That's not the deal.
 
I’ve been involved in arms control negotiations since I was a 30-year-old kid when I came to the United States Congress in 1972 on the Foreign Relations Committee.  Two of the last deals as a senator, I was delegated to go and negotiate with the Russians. 
 
Just like arms control talks with the Soviet Union -— another regime we fundamentally disagreed with, whose rhetoric and actions were repugnant and unacceptable, whose proxies we forcibly countered around the world –- we negotiated to reduce the nuclear threat to prevent nuclear war. 
 
Kennedy did not condition the Partial Test Ban Treaty on the Soviets surrendering Cuba.  Nixon negotiated the SALT Treaty without conditioning it on the end of the Vietnam War and Russian support for the North Vietnamese.  Reagan demanded that Gorbachev tear down the Berlin Wall, but it didn’t condition talks in Reykjavik on the Soviets doing it first.  And they all kept us safer.  That’s what we’re doing today. 
 
It’s true, as Jack discussed yesterday with you, that should Iran act rapidly to restrict its program, Iran will have additional cash available to it.  And despite good reasons to think most of it will go to urgent domestic needs, some or all of it may fund further mischief in the region.  But if that occurs, it will not occur in a vacuum.
 
We are working continually to develop the means and capacity to counter Iran’s destabilizing activities as we’ve demonstrated in places like the Straits of Hormuz every single day.  And we’re prepared to use (inaudible) the force.  Just listen to the news tonight about what we're now doing in the Straits.
 
We’re sanctioning Iran’s terrorist networks.  We're strengthening our partners to push back against Iran’s bullying.  We’re strengthening national institutions and militaries so they can't have -- they are not manipulated, or corrupted, or hollowed out by militias, clients, states within states in places like Iraq and Lebanon. 
 
The one reason I am sanguine that -— deal or no deal -— Iran will not dominate the Middle East is what I’ve learned from years of working in Iraq.  The people of the Middle East don’t want to be dominated by anyone –- not us, not Iran, not anyone.
 
And a nuclear deal reinforces our efforts to push back against Iran interference and aggression.  Because as dangerous and difficult as Iran is today, just imagine what and how emboldened, a nuclear-armed Iran would be and what escalation it would sponsor in support of terrorism and militancy. 
 
As we produce this deal, we’re also deepening our cooperation with Israel and our other regional partners, including in the Gulf, who are concerned about Iran’s ambitions in the region, as we are.
… 
When it comes to Iran, the President said he would draw on all instruments of our national power to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.  I have heard some speak cavalierly about how simple military strikes would be.  “Why don't we just take them now and get it over with?”  This is not only incredibly uninformed, but it’s dangerous.  There’s nothing simple, minimal, or predictable about a war with Iran.  If required, it will happen.
 
It’s a risk we may yet have to take should Iran race for a bomb.  But you should be ready, we should be ready -- even when strikes would achieve less at a greater cost than a deal we are debating today. 
 
After a decade of learning the limits of what war can achieve in the Middle East, we owe it to ourselves -– and to our troops -– to fully explore what is possible through diplomacy. If the last 12 years haven’t done anything else, I hope they instilled a bit of humility in all of us about nation-building.  And so we do so knowing that the finest military in human history remains at the ready. 
 
In closing, I want to offer a piece of advice:  Don’t underestimate my friend Barack Obama.  Do not underestimate him.  He has a spine of steel, and he is willing to do what it takes to keep America and our allies safe.  And that's what we're doing in Iran.
 
Folks, there is no deal yet.  The Iranians may yet refuse to agree to the detail the framework lays out in detail.  If they do not, there will be no deal.  And it will be Iran who rejected the agreement, and the sanctions -- international sanctions -- will stay in place and more will follow.
 
So, folks, make your judgment when the final deal is put before us.  But be critical.  Not only of the deal -- be critical of the criticism to see if it holds water.
 

Click here for a full transcript.

 

Treasury on Iran Deal and Sanctions

On April 29, Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew outlined how the United States could ensure Iran’s compliance with the terms of a nuclear deal. He said the United States could keep the “sanctions architecture in place while providing relief through waivers” to preserve the ability to “reimpose sanctions if Iran reneges on its commitments.” The following are excerpts from Lew’s remarks at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy 30th Anniversary Gala.

 
Tonight I want to speak about an issue that I know is on everyone’s mind, and that is our ongoing efforts to make sure that Iran never obtains a nuclear weapon.  Specifically, I would like to discuss why the framework agreement we recently reached with our P5+1 partners and Iran offers the best chance of achieving that objective.  You will hear more broadly from the Vice President tomorrow, but I will describe how my team at the Treasury Department is prepared, if we are able to conclude a comprehensive agreement in the next several months, to help ensure that Iran complies with the terms of the agreement. 
 
But first, how did we get to this point?  At the outset of this Administration, President Obama made clear that preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon was a national security priority of the highest order.  We knew then, as now, that an Iran in possession of a nuclear weapon would directly threaten our security and that of our closest allies, increase the chance of nuclear terrorism, and risk setting off an arms race in the Middle East.  So we resolved to do whatever it would take to make sure that Iran will never get a nuclear weapon. 
 
For us at Treasury, that meant working together with Congress, Departments across the executive branch, and our international partners to establish the most effective, comprehensive, and innovative program of economic sanctions in history.  
 
At first, there were many out there who said a sanctions regime would not work.  That the United States — which had a near-total embargo on Iran for over a decade — had exhausted its sanctions tools.  That countries like China and India would never agree to dramatically scale back their oil purchases. 
 
Those assessments were wrong.  Sanctions isolated Iran from the international financial system, slashed its oil exports by more than half, deprived it of access to much of its oil revenues and foreign reserves, and severely constrained its overall economy.
 
But the goal of sanctions was never to create pressure for its own sake.  Sanctions were always intended principally as a means, through economic pressure, to persuade Iran to come to the negotiating table to engage in serious diplomacy over its nuclear program.  And that is exactly what happened.  
 
In November 2013, we reached an interim agreement to freeze and even roll back Iran’s nuclear program while negotiations on a longer term agreement were underway.  Many critics suggested that this interim agreement, the Joint Plan of Action, would free Iran from the pressure of sanctions and ultimately pave the way for an Iranian nuclear weapon.  But throughout the JPOA, we have ensured that Iran abided by its commitments.  Its nuclear program has remained frozen, certain aspects of the program were curtailed, and we have gained unprecedented insight into Iran’s nuclear activities.  That gave us the space we needed to engage in talks knowing that Iran was not simply biding time and creeping toward a nuclear weapon under diplomatic cover. 
 
Which brings us to today.  The framework understanding reached several weeks ago in Switzerland is the basis of a good deal.  If we are able to conclude a final agreement consistent with the framework, it will make our country safer, it will make our allies safer, and it will make the world safer.
 
That’s because it meets our core objectives: cutting off every pathway that Iran could take to develop a nuclear weapon and providing for the most robust and intrusive inspections regime ever placed on a country’s nuclear program.  In return, after Iran takes the required steps to cut off these pathways, the international community is prepared to provide Iran with relief from a defined set of nuclear-related sanctions. 
 
Let me be absolutely clear: A comprehensive deal with Iran would not be based on trust.  It would be based on intense verification and scrutiny – as well as the knowledge that if Iran does not keep its word, we have preserved all our options, including economic and military tools, to make sure that Iran can never acquire a nuclear weapon.  We now have several months of tough diplomacy ahead of us, during which we hope to iron out all the technical details required to implement an agreement.
 
If Iran takes the steps to shut down the paths to a nuclear weapon, the framework provides sanctions relief.  I would like to spend a few minutes discussing in detail how we think about sanctions relief and how it will work if we reach a comprehensive deal.
 
When we began thinking about the idea of a nuclear agreement with Iran, we knew full well that we needed an approach to winding down sanctions that accounted for the possibility that Iran might cheat.  Historically, Iran had told the international community one thing, while doing something very different.  We had two overarching conditions for any future sanctions relief.
 
First, that the relief would have to be carried out in phases, to match verified, agreed-upon steps on Iran’s part.  It would be unacceptable for us to lift the sanctions on Iran on the day it agrees to a comprehensive deal, since continued pressure from sanctions is the best way to ensure that Iran actually lives up to its commitments.  And second, we need to make sure that if Iran violates any of those commitments, there will be a mechanism to snap sanctions back into place and reverse the relief. 
 
The framework agreement meets our requirements in both respects, and if we can get a comprehensive deal, here’s how it will work.
 
Iran will receive relief from UN, EU, and U.S. sanctions only after it verifiably completes major nuclear-related steps, ensuring that it is at least one year away from having enough fissile material to produce a nuclear weapon.  
 
That means reducing installed centrifuges at Natanz and Fordow by two thirds and ceasing all enrichment at Fordow.  That means rebuilding and redesigning the heavy water research reactor at Arak such that it cannot produce weapons-grade plutonium. That means reducing its stockpile of low-enriched uranium from around 10,000 kilograms to 300 kilograms. Every step of Iran’s nuclear supply chain, from mining to enrichment, would be subject to intrusive inspection, so we will know if the Iranians are keeping their word.
 
If Iran takes those steps — and we can confirm that the work is complete — it will represent far-reaching movement, and it will extend Iran’s breakout time from about three months to a least a year.  In exchange for taking these steps, we would be prepared to provide sanctions relief, including suspending oil, trade, and banking sanctions.  And while we would provide this relief by using the President’s authority to waive sanctions, the authority to reimpose sanctions would remain in place.  Only after many years of compliance would we ask Congress to vote to terminate sanctions, and only Congress can terminate legislative sanctions.
 
Keeping the sanctions architecture in place while providing relief through waivers also furthers our second condition, which is to preserve our ability to reimpose sanctions if Iran reneges on its commitments.  By ensuring that sanctions can be quickly snapped back if Iran cheats, we will retain important leverage over Iran for years after an agreement is reached.
 
Crucially, this approach to sanctions relief and snapback is not just a U.S. position.  Our international partners are united in the view that we must be able to reimpose multilateral sanctions on Iran if it breaches the restrictions on its nuclear program.  We are still developing the exact mechanisms by which sanctions stemming from UN Security Council Resolutions would be re-imposed.  But we have made it abundantly clear that if Iran breaks its commitment, it will face once again the full force of the multilateral sanctions regime.  The snapback would not be vulnerable to a veto by an individual P5 member, including China and Russia.
 
I’ve spoken in some detail about what relief from the sanctions will mean for Iran.  But before closing I would like to spend a few minutes on what the relief will not mean.
 
Many Americans, and many of our closest allies, are understandably concerned that Iran will use the money it receives as a result of sanctions relief to fund terrorism and support destabilizing proxies throughout the Middle East.  We share those concerns, and we are committed to maintaining sanctions that address these activities, even after Iran takes the steps required to get relief from nuclear sanctions.  But it’s important to note that the connection between nuclear sanctions relief and Iran’s other malign activities is complicated, and most of the money Iran receives from sanctions relief will not be used to support those activities. 
 
Even before oil prices fell, punishing sanctions put Iran’s economy in a very deep hole.  President Rouhani was elected on a platform of economic revitalization, and Iranians are demanding proof that engagement with the international community will produce tangible economic benefits.  The scale of Iran’s domestic investment needs is estimated to be at least half a trillion dollars, which far outstrips the benefit of sanctions relief.  As a result, Iran is expected to use new revenues chiefly to address those needs, including by shoring up its budget, building infrastructure, maintaining the stability of the rial, and attracting imports. 
 
The bottom line is that as a result of our sanctions, Iran will be playing catch up for a long time to come.  Think about the following indicators:
 
  • Our sanctions have cost Iran over $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 improvement Iran’s infrastructure needs to produce at this level — it would take more than three years for Iran to earn that much money, and that would not come close to regaining lost economic activity.
  • 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 build back up the level of economic activity it would be at now had sanctions never been put in place.
 
So Iran will be under enormous pressure to use previously blocked resources to improve its domestic economy. 
 
Unfortunately, the cost of Iran’s support for terrorism and regional interventions is relatively small.  Those activities have continued over the last several years, even while Iran’s domestic economy has suffered badly.  We are under no illusions that Iran will all of a sudden stop providing significant support to dangerous actors like Hizballah and the Assad regime — and so we will remain vigilant in our efforts to combat those activities.
 
Make no mistake: deal or no deal, we will continue to use all our available tools, including sanctions, to counter Iran’s menacing behavior.  Iran knows that our host of sanctions focused on its support for terrorism and its violations of human rights are not, and have never been, up for discussion.  The Treasury Department’s designations of Iranian-backed terrorist groups and the Iranian entities that support them, most notably the IRGC-Qods Force, will persist, giving us a powerful tool to go after Iran’s attempts to fund terror.
 
As the President made clear when he announced the framework, “our work is not yet done.”  Over the course of the next two months, our negotiators will continue to refine the details of how we implement a comprehensive agreement.  We are determined to guard against backsliding by the Iranians.  And we will only reach a final agreement if our technical experts are confident in the mechanisms both for inspections and for the possible reimposition of sanctions. 
 
The President remains committed to only reaching an agreement if it is a good one.  But a diplomatic resolution would be by far the most effective and most enduring way to address this grave threat.  Apart from the broad costs and risks associated with taking military action against Iran, we should not take too much comfort in how long a military strike would slow down Iran’s nuclear ambitions.  The estimates range, but almost all experts agree that a military strike would result in Iran doubling down and speeding up its nuclear program.  And we would go from full visibility to no visibility, severely limiting our ability to see or stop nuclear progress.  
 
Click here for a full transcript.

Cotton vs Zarif: War of Tweets

On April 29, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif quipped that sanctions relief as part of nuclear deal would be codified in a U.N. Security Council resolution, “which will be mandatory for all member states whether Senator  [Tom] Cotton likes it or not.” Cotton has been a vocal critic of nuclear talks between Iran and the world’s six major powers. In March, he organized a controversial open letter to Iran’s leaders warning that a nuclear deal could be revoked by the next president or modified by a future Congress. The letter, signed by 47 Republican senators, prompted a backlash from top Iranian leaders, including the supreme leader.
 
Zarif referred to Cotton and the GOP letter at an event organized by the New America Foundation and the New York University Center on International Cooperation. He was in New York to attend Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Treaty (NPT) conference at the United Nations. Cotton released a statement and took to Twitter in response to Zarif, challenging the minister to meet in Washington to “debate Iran’s record of tyranny, treachery & terror.” The following is a rundown of Zarif’s remarks, Cotton’s response and Zarif’s reply.
 
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif
 
“If we have an agreement on the 30th of June, within a few days of that, we will have a resolution in the Security Council under Article 41 of Chapter 7, which will be mandatory for all member states, whether Senator Cotton likes it or not. I couldn’t avoid that.”
 
“I’ve studied and lived in the U.S., I know enough about the U.S. constitution and U.S. procedures. But as a foreign government, I only deal with the U.S. government. I do not deal with the U.S. Congress, I do not deal with the U.S. Supreme Court.”
—April 29, 2015 at an event in New York
 
Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR)
 
 
*Cotton was apparently referring Zarif’s time spent in the United States during the 1980-1988 war between Iran and Iraq. Zarif continued his studies and worked for the Iranian mission to the United Nations during the war.
 
Statement released by Senator Cotton
 
“Sanctions relief isn’t about what I like, but what will keep America safe from a nuclear-armed Iran. But I suspect Foreign Minister Zarif is saying what President Obama will not because the President knows such terms would be unacceptable to both Congress and the American people. The repeated provocative statements made by members of the Iranian leadership demonstrate why Iran cannot be trusted and why the President’s decision to pursue this deal and grant dangerous concessions to Iran was ill-advised from the beginning. These aren’t rhetorical tricks aimed at appealing to hard-liners in Iran; after all, Mr. Zarif was speaking in English in New York. Rather, they foreshadow the dangerous posture Iran will take and has taken repeatedly—including as recently as yesterday with the interception of a U.S.-affiliated cargo ship—if this deal moves forward. 
 
“More, they reaffirm the need for Congress to approve any final deal and to conduct oversight over the Obama Administration’s actions. As we consider the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, I urge my colleagues to ensure we pass legislation strong enough to stop a bad deal in its tracks and protect the American people from a nuclear Iran.”
— April 29, 2015 in a statement
 
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif
 

Report: Iran Seventh Most Censored Country

Iran is the world’s seventh most censored country, according to a new report from the Committee to Protect Journalists. The ranking is based on Iran’s detention of journalists, censorship laws, and internet restrictions compared to other countries. The following are the report’s main findings on Iran.

Leadership: Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has been supreme leader since 1989. Hassan Rouhani has been president since August 2013.
 
How censorship works: The government uses mass and arbitrary detention as a means of silencing dissent and forcing journalists into exile. Iran became the world's leading jailer of journalists in 2009 and has ranked among the world's worst jailers of the press every year since. Iranian authorities maintain one of the toughest Internet censorship regimes in the world, blocking millions of websites, including news and social networking sites. They are suspected of using sophisticated techniques, such as setting up fake versions of popular websites and search engines, and the regime frequently jams satellite signals. The situation for the press has not improved under Rouhani despite the hopes of U.N. member states and human rights groups. Rouhani also failed to uphold his campaign promise to reinstate the 4,000-member Association of Iranian Journalists, which was forced to close in 2009.
 
Lowlight: Iranian authorities control coverage of certain topics by tightening the small circle of journalists and news outlets allowed to report on them. In February, Iran's Supreme National Security Council filed a lawsuit against conservative journalist Hossein Ghadyani and the newspaper he works for, Vatan-e Emrooz. The newspaper, which supports former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, had published four articles that criticized Iran's international nuclear negotiations and alleged corruption in the government's dealing with an oil company.
 
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Zarif Interview with Charlie Rose

In a wide-ranging interview with Charlie Rose, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif discussed nuclear talks, ISIS, U.S.-Iran relations, jailed journalists in Iran and other issues. The following are video clips from the interview, which aired in two parts, followed by key excerpts.

 

 

Nuclear Talks

Charlie Rose: Have you changed your mind about the United States? You guys have been sitting there. You both want this to work for individual reasons, I mean, for reasons reflecting of your country's wishes.
 
Mohammad Javad Zarif: No, we both want this to work because we know that the other approach is counterproductive, that the other approach does not produce results. I mean, confrontation harms us. It harms U.S. interests. And it doesn't advance any objective. That is a realization that has been key to everybody sitting and trying to resolve this. So we have tested something that was not conducive to an outcome that either side believed to be in its interests. Now we're testing another option, an option that we always preferred. We prefer that option in early 2000 … when we made suggestions.
 
Now, I want you to understand, and I want the American public to understand that it's not the sanctions that has brought Iran here. We were always at the negotiating table. We were always prepared to reach a negotiated solution. It was, unfortunately, segments of the United States administration who believes and, unfortunately, continue to believe that they can impose their views on the rest of the world. They can't. And the sooner they realize that, the better off -- the better we all will be.
 
“Breakout” Time
 
Zarif: Breakout is the time that is required for a country to build and test a bomb, to build a nuclear weapon, a single nuclear weapon. Now, the calculation for that is something that requires first to have the fissile material, then to convey that fissile material into an explosive device for a bomb and to build a bomb and then to build a warhead and all of that to be able to explode the bomb. Now, what they're talking about, when it comes to Iran, they're talking about the time that is required for Iran to build necessary fissile material for one bomb. This is not to build a bomb.
 
So this is where the hype comes.
 
For the past eight years, Iran has suffered all these sanctions, and we had enough material to build eight bombs.
 
Rose: Eight bombs.
 
Zarif: Eight bombs. And we never did. So the break --
 
Rose: How much material is that?

Zarif: Eight thousand kilograms of enriched uranium. During the -- during president Ahmadinejad's time, where the United States and the rest of the world put all the pressure on him, demonized him, tried to create a security threat out of a country that never posed a threat against anybody, eight years, 8,000 kilograms, eight bombs, not a single bomb. Nobody even can test this argument. So -- breakout is a hysteria, is a hype. But Iran doesn't want to build nuclear weapons. We are prepared to create the atmosphere of confidence. That will be done through certain measures that we have accepted. It doesn't -- it doesn't mean that I accept breakout because I believe breakout is a hype.
 
Journalists Jailed in Iran
 
Zarif: We do not jail people for their opinions. The government has a plan to improve, enhance human rights in the country, as every government should. And I believe we have an obligation as a government to our own people to do that. But people who commit crimes, who violate the laws of a country, cannot hide behind being a journalist or being a political activist. People have to observe the law. I have to observe the law. When I'm asked to go to the parliament, I may not like it, but I have to go to the parliament and to respond to their questions. And I believe it is important for everybody to respect the rule of law and to allow the political process, the judicial process in Iran to run its course. And I believe at the end of the day, everybody will be best served by that.
 
 

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