United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

US General on Iran: Challenge & Opportunity

      On March 5, U.S. Central Command General Lloyd Austin III cited countering “malign Iranian influence” as one of 10 priority efforts for 2014 in his statement to the House Armed Services Committee. But he also noted the “unprecedented opportunity” for diplomatic talks between Iran and the world’s six major powers to resolve the nuclear dispute. Central Command’s area of responsibility includes 20 countries from Egypt to Afghanistan. Austin emphasized that Tehran’s growing missile, cyber warfare and counter-maritime capabilities pose “a very real and significant threat” to the interests of the United States and its partners — especially the Sunni Gulf states. The following are excerpts from his statement on Iran.

Challenge (Iran): We continue to pay close attention to Iran's actions. As a result of the understandings reached with the P5+1, Iran has taken specific and verifiable actions for the first time in nearly a decade that halted progress on its nuclear program and rolled it back in key respects, stopping the advance of the program and introducing increased transparency into Iran's nuclear activities. Despite this progress, significant concerns do remain. In addition to the threat posed by Iran's nuclear program, there is growing anxiety in the region and beyond concerning the malign activity being perpetrated by the Iranian Threat Network (ITN), which consists of Qods Force, Ministry of Intelligence and Security, regional surrogates, and proxies. We are seeing a significant increase in Iranian proxy activity in Syria, principally through Iran's support of LH and the regime. This is contributing to the humanitarian crisis and significantly altered political-societal demographic balances within and between the neighboring countries of Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, and Iraq. There is also widespread unease with respect to the counter- maritime, theater ballistic missile and cyber capabilities possessed by Iran. Each of these represents a very real and significant threat to U.S. and our partners' interests. Going forward, we should look to employ nuanced approaches in dealing with these distinct challenges, while providing the means necessary to enable our partners to do their part to address them, both militarily and diplomatically.
Opportunity (Iran): Progress towards a comprehensive solution that would severely restrict Iran's nuclear weapons 'breakout' capacity has the potential to moderate certain objectionable Iranian activities in non-nuclear areas (e.g., ITN, theater ballistic missile, cyber). If the P5+1 are able to achieve a long-term resolution with respect to Iran's nuclear program, that would represent a step in the right direction, and present an unprecedented opportunity for positive change.
...If the flow of foreign fighters could be curbed significantly, and the support provided to the regime by Lebanese Hezbollah (LH), Iranian Qods Forces and others was stopped or greatly reduced, it could lead to a break in the stalemate and an eventual resolution to the conflict.
Click here for the full statement.

Israeli Voices on Iran Part 1: Hawks

            On March 4, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged world powers to have Iran “fully dismantle its nuclear capabilities” in his address to the annual American Israeli Public Affairs Committee conference. Israel is the most skeptical country about diplomacy to ensure Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon.  Netanyahu has long argued that Tehran must be denied the ability to ever build a nuclear weapon. “That means we must dismantle their heavy water reactor, underground enrichment facilities, get rid of stockpiles of enriched uranium and their centrifuges,” the prime minister told some 14,000 conference attendees.

            Netanyahu also called for additional pressure on Iran to ensure a peaceful resolution to the nuclear dispute. The Obama administration, in contrast, has repeatedly argued that additional pressure, such as new sanctions, could derail talks and push Washington closer to war.
            Other top Israeli officials have also taken a hardline view of Iran. Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman have rejected President Hassan Rouhani’s diplomatic overtures to the outside world as a deceptive charm offensive. Netanyahu and other ministers rejected the November 2013 interim agreement with Iran as an “historical mistake.”
            Israel is concerned that a final diplomatic deal between Iran and the world’s six major powers—the United States, Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia—could allow Iran to reemerge as a regional powerhouse. Jerusalem fears an agreement that could allow Tehran to improve its military capabilities, ramp up support for extremist groups and gain international legitimacy. The following are hawkish remarks by Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders on Iran.  
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
            “World leaders are talking about leaving Iran with capability to enrich. This would enable Iran to rapidly develop nuclear weapons. If we allow this outlaw terrorist state to enrich uranium, how can we seriously demand that other country not enrich uranium?
            “We must dismantle their heavy water reactor, underground enrichment facilities, get rid of stockpiles of enriched uranium and their centrifuges.
            “I've come here to draw a clear line. The line between life and death, right and wrong, between the blessings of a brilliant future and the curses of a dark past.
            “Israel is humane, Israel is compassionate, Israel is a force for good. On the other side of the moral divide stand the forces of terror, Iran, Assad, Hezbollah, al-Qaida and others.
            “Listen to [Hezbollah leader Hassan] Nasrallah, he says 'Iran and Hezbollah love death and Israel loves life, that's why Iran and Hezbollah will win'. He's right about the first part, but he's dead wrong on the second point, it's because we love life that Israel shall win.
            “Iran's radical regime has tried to blur this moral divide. It wheels out its smiling president and smooth talking foreign minister, but they don't square with Iran's aggressive actions.”
            “I'm often asked whether Israel truly wants diplomacy to succeed - of course we do. No country has a greater interest in the peaceful elimination of the Iranian nuclear threat. But this will only be done with an agreement making Iran fully dismantle its nuclear capabilities… Pressure is what brought Iran to negotiating table, only more will get them to abandon [it].
            “Greater pressure won't make war more likely, but less likely. The greater the pressure on Iran and the more credible the threat of force, the stronger the chance force will never have to be used."
            March 4, 2014 at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference
            “I know it is not fashionable, but we need more pressure on Iran - not less.
            The goal of the talks with Tehran “should be zero centrifuges and zero enrichment” to prevent it from attaining “the capacity to produce a nuclear weapon.”
            Iran is developing new centrifuges “50 times better than the ones they have now” and intercontinental ballistic missiles that could “target Europe and the U.S. and… carry a nuclear payload.”
            Feb. 17, 2014 in an address to The Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations in Jerusalem
Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz
            A final deal that allows Iran to retain centrifuges for uranium enrichment ultimately would allow the development of nuclear weapons in Iran, encourage a Sunni-Shiite arms race in the Middle East and weaken counterproliferation efforts worldwide…
            The chances of Iran developing the bomb as a “threshold country” are considerable: North Korea did so after signing a similar deal in 2007. Becoming a nuclear power was the ayatollahs’ initial objective and the reason Tehran invested around $50 billion in this project. Yes, there are other countries on the nuclear threshold, but unlike Germany and Japan, Iran is unlikely to maintain its threshold status.
            The ayatollahs’ regime poses a threat to its Sunni neighbors. Tehran calls for the annihilation of the Jewish state and sponsors terrorist groups such as Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad, all of which sparks fear in other countries. Sooner or later, Tehran’s anxiety over potential retaliatory actions against its regime, including its nuclear project, would increase pressures within Iran to dash toward a fait accompli nuclear weapon…
            Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s “charm offensive” has had a dramatic effect in the West, but no one in the Middle East buys Iran’s projection of pacifism. Indeed, Tehran’s direct involvement in Sunni-Shiite carnage in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq has sharpened its image. Iran’s breakout capability will be pivotal in regional assessments, with most governments likely to conclude that if the deal leaves Iran only a year or two away from the bomb Tehran ultimately will go nuclear.
            Feb. 28, 2014 in an op-ed for The Washington Post
Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon
            “The impending agreement with Iran is a historical fiasco. Iran will no longer feel any pressure – political, military or economic. It will spend the next three years arguing semantics, while at the same time it will advance its nuclear capabilities and become a true nuclear threshold state. From that point on Iran will be able to fully develop nuclear weapons whenever it chooses. A nuclear Iran is the number one global threat – Iran must be stopped.
            “Let us not be confused, Iran wants regional, international hegemony. They want to obtain a nuclear umbrella for their activities and perhaps over time will use of force as well.”
            Jan. 28, 2014 at the annual Institute for National Security Studies conference in Tel Aviv
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman
             “The new missile tests conducted by Iran yesterday are further proof its intentions have not changed and the Iranians are not even hiding their being a warmongering state.
             “The only change in Iran is that now they threaten world peace behind a mask of smiles.”
             Feb. 11, 2014 in remarks to the press
             “As we speak, the centrifuges continue to spin and to enrich uranium, and they intend to replace the old centrifuges with new ones that have the ability to produce five times more than the existing ones. Most of the countries that produce energy for civilian purposes from atomic power plants do not need enriched uranium…
             “American expert Bob Einhorn once said that the Iranian demand to enrich large quantities of uranium to 20% in order to produce electricity is like asking for a 30-cm-long commando knife to spread jam on bread. Not only that, but the claim that they need a stockpile of enriched uranium because they plan to build a lot of nuclear power stations in the future is as ridiculous as saying that we are building a petrol station next to our house because in 20 years we intend to buy a car.
             “Also, Iran’s involvement in terrorism, its active aid to Assad and to Hezbollah, reveals the true nature of the regime. Iran hasn’t changed in relation to human rights: Iran holds second place in the world in the absolute numbers of executions it carries out, and first place for the number of executions relative to the population. In 2013, more than 600 people were executed. Since Rouhani’s election last June, 367 people have been executed. Among these were 18-year-olds who committed the crimes when they were minors; after they were sentenced to death, Iran waited until they reached the age when they could be hanged. In short, charm notwithstanding, Iran is the same Iran.
             “So, we will follow the implementation of the Geneva agreement that was reached with the Iranians, but in the end, responsibility for the security of Israel’s citizens and the future of the state is entirely in the hands of the Israeli government. We will not hesitate to make decisions according to developments.”
             Jan. 5, 2014 in an address to Ministry of Foreign Affairs heads of mission
             The interim nuclear deal is “unacceptable to me and the Israelis… We are in the beginning of a nuclear arms race...[whose] consequences are even more serious than a horror movie in Hollywood.
             “The real center of power, it's not the new political leaders. It's not Rouhani, it's not Zarif, it's still the Revolutionary Guard and the Supreme Leader.
             “We hope for real change in Iran… We enjoyed really friendly relations with the Iranian people for hundreds, maybe thousands of years. “[Today] of course we have some dialogue with the Iranian people through mass media, but it's not enough."
             Dec. 7, 2013 at the Brookings Institution Saban Forum
             “Obviously when you look at the smiles of the Iranians over there in Geneva, you realize that this is the Iranians’ greatest victory, maybe since the Khomeini revolution, and it doesn’t really change the situation within Iran.”
             Nov. 24, 2013 to Israel Radio
Economy Minister Naftali Bennett
             “Israel does not see itself as bound by this bad, this very bad agreement that has been signed.”
             Nov. 24, 2013 to Israel Army Radio
Defense Ministry Political-Military Affairs Director Maj. Gen. (Res) Amos Gilad
            “As soon as you reach an interim agreement, it can be extended later for another six months. Then what happens? As soon as I stop the momentum [of sanctions against Iran], the consensus is cracked. It’s like a wall with cracks. The wheels of economy start spinning again.
            “Of course [negotiations are an exercise in deception]. They [Iranians] have missiles, they have military research for the project and they have resources. The men of the Revolutionary Guard are in control of all of this. They invest constantly in defensive measures. What we see here is a military project being conducted by a very dangerous regime, and that combination creates a very significant danger.”

            December 2013 in an interview with Al Monitor

Israeli Voices on Iran Part 2: Doves

            Israel does not speak with one voice on Iran. Several politicians and current and former intelligence officials have broken with the government’s largely hawkish view of Iran since President Hassan Rouhani took office in August 2013. President Shimon Peres has expressed willingness to “convert enemies into friends” and even meet Rouhani while Prime Minister Netanyahu has called Iran’s president a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.”

            Israel’s alternative voices on the Islamic Republic are generally more open to testing diplomacy and Tehran’s intentions before promoting the military option. Military intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, has concluded that Iran is undergoing “significant” and “strategic” changes and that centrist political factions have gained strength since Rouhani’s election. Military intelligence has also contended that a complete dismantling of Tehran’s uranium enrichment equipment —one of Netanyahu’s top demands — is unrealistic.

             Former Mossad chief Meir Dagan has long opposed an Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear facilities. In February, he reportedly told a closed forum that Netanyahu’s preferred policy toward Iran could have led to war. Others have disagreed with the government's focus and approach to Iran. In December, former Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin said failed peace negotiations with the Palestinians would be a "far graver" threat to Israel’s future than Iran's nuclear program. In late 2013, opposition politician Zahava Gal-on declared her support for the Obama administration's approach to diplomacy with Iran and even accused Netanyahu of trying to sabotage U.S. efforts. The following are excerpted remarks by Israeli security experts and politicians on Iran.

President Shimon Peres
      “Why not [meet President Hassan Rouhani]? I don't have enemies. It's not a matter of a person but of a policy. The purpose is to convert enemies into friends. If it was only him I'd take it with greater assurance, but there are other structures, other people. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard, half army and half organization, spreads terror all over the world. And I'm not so sure they support the president. We have to see the balance of the situation.”
      “We don’t consider Iran as an enemy… There were times [when] we didn’t want to meet, for example, with [Palestinian Liberation Organization chief Yasser] Arafat. But the moment Arafat changed his policy, why not? We are for peace.”
            Dec. 8, 2013 at a business conference in Tel Aviv
            “Last night a deal was signed between the P5+1 and Iran. This is an interim deal. The success or failure of the deal will be judged by results, not by words. I would like to say to the Iranian people: You are not our enemies and we are not yours. There is a possibility to solve this issue diplomatically. It is in your hands. Reject terrorism. Stop the nuclear program. Stop the development of long-range missiles. Israel like others in the international community prefers a diplomatic solution. But I want to remind everyone of what President Obama said, and what I have personally heard from other leaders. The international community will not tolerate a nuclear Iran. And if the diplomatic path fails, the nuclear option will be prevented by other means. The alternative is far worse.”
            Nov. 24, 2013 in a statement
Institute for National Security Studies Director and former Military Intelligence chief Amos Yadlin
            “They [Iranians] didn’t sign onto this in order to breach it… The Iranians came to Geneva to get sanctions lifted. They understand that this [interim deal] is a test. It will be illogical for them to breach it in the next six months. It might be more logical for them to try to escape it after six months.”
            “Though we don't like this agreement, it's better than the alternative of no agreement…
            “In the coming six months the legitimacy of an [Israeli] attack [on Iran] will diminish.”
            Nov. 24, 2013 to Israel’s Channel 2 and other media
Former Mossad chief Efraim Halevy
            “I come away from this with a sense of possibility, by no means a certainty, that there might be an opening, in which one can turn around the thorniest problem of all: the deep-seated rejection of Israel by the current regime in Iran.
            “IF, if, the nuclear file is closed, and sanctions removed, it will bring economic relief…[and] a renewed view from Tehran of the opportunities the world is offering. And then, if there will be a desire to move beyond the nuclear issue, then the Iran regime will be able to turn to the public and say, ‘we should no longer be in the business of fear mongering. If we want to move forward with the US, it will be difficult while maintaining a state of belligerency against one of the US key friends and allies.”
            November 2013 in an interview with Al Monitor
Meretz Party leader Zahava Gal-on
            Netanyahu was “sabotaging and “undermining” Obama’s efforts to engage with Iran.
            “Netanyahu doesn’t object, as he wrote on his Facebook page, to a ‘bad agreement with Iran,’ but to any agreement that’s directly negotiated between the United States and Iran.
            “It’s in Israel’s interest to support the U.S. goal of preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons through a diplomatic agreement that will employ stringent monitoring and verification, and not the winds of war.”
            November 2013 according to The Times of Israel
Former Shin Bet chief Carmi Gillon
            “The American policy is a policy of wisdom… In my eyes, American policy is not coming out of weakness. It comes out of power.”
            Nov. 8, 2013 in an interview with the Chicago Sun Times
Former Mossad chief Meir Dagan
            “Even if we assume that we would use the military option to deal with this, I think that achievements that we would reach would be limited. It would be a delay, not an end” to Iranian nuclear development.

            Jan. 5, 2014 at a public forum in Kfar Saba

Former Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin
            “The ramifications of failed negotiations [with the Palestinians] are far graver for Israel’s future than the Iranian nuclear program.”
            December 2013 in an interview with Haaretz

Photo credit: Shimon Peres by David Shankbone (David Shankbone) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons



Kerry: Time to Seize Diplomatic Moment

            On March 2 and 3, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and Secretary of State John Kerry defended the Obama administration’s commitment to solve the Iranian nuclear dispute diplomatically at the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference. “Those who say strike [Iran’s nuclear sites], and hit, need to go look at what happens after you’ve done that,” Kerry told the some 14,000 conference attendees. “This [diplomatic process] is not about trusting Tehran. This is about testing Tehran. And you can be sure: If Iran fails this test, America will not fail Israel,” he said.
Lew outlined how sanctions have crippled Iran’s economy and pushed it to the negotiating table. But he also warned that “passing new sanctions now could derail the talks that are underway and splinter the international cooperation that has made our sanctions regime so effective.” The following are excerpted remarks by Lew and Kerry. 

Secretary of State John Kerry
            “Now let me start with Iran because I know there are many questions. I know many people – there’s been a healthy debate about the approach. We welcome that. But let me sum up President Obama’s policy in 10 simple, clear words, unequivocal: We will not permit Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon, period. Now, I added an eleventh word just for punctuation.
            “But I want you to understand there are no if, ands, or buts. This is not a political policy. This is a real foreign policy. And we mean every word of what we say. You have the word of the President of the United States that Iran will not get a nuclear weapon. Now, as we said at the outset, and I say it again today, our diplomacy is guided by a simple bottom line: No deal is better than a bad deal. And we absolutely will not accept a bad deal. We are committed to a deal that gets the job done.
            “Why? Because we get it, we understand it. As President Obama said in Jerusalem, no one can question why Israel looks at the Iranian program and sees an existential threat. We understand it. We understand it in our gut. And we also know something else. This is not some favor that we do for Israel. This is something that is also in the interest of the United States of America, and it’s in the interest of countries surrounding Israel. A nuclear bomb for Iran would also threaten the stability of the region, indeed the entire world. It would produce an arms race among the surrounding countries. There is no way the world is safer anywhere in the world with a nuclear weapon in Iran, and we are not going to let it happen, period, end of story.
            “Now, to do that, to achieve this all-important goal, important for America’s security and for Israel’s security, it is crucial that we seizes what might be the last best chance to be able to have diplomacy work, and maybe the last chance for quite some time. Because the reality is only strong diplomacy can fully and permanently achieve the goal. Those who say strike and hit need to go look at exactly what happens after you’ve done that, whether that permanently eliminates the program or opens up all kinds of other possibilities, including Iran leaving the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty, not even allowing IAEA inspectors in, not living under any international regimen. That’s a possibility. Only strong diplomacy can guarantee that a nuclear weapons program actually goes away for good instead of just going underground and becoming more dangerous. Only the exhaustion of diplomacy can justify more forceful options if you have to take them in the end.
            “So we say – President Obama and myself and others – we say let’s seize the diplomatic moment. And that’s what we are trying to do. And the truth is it is strong diplomacy that has actually made this moment possible. And we need to give it the space to work. We need to make sure that if this opportunity were to elude us, it is not because we are the ones that close the window.
            “And I’m not coming here to stand up in front of you and tell you that I know that Iran is going to reach an agreement. I don’t know. I don’t know what they’ll do. I don’t know if they are able to make some of the tough decisions they’re going to have to make in the months ahead. But I know that if the United States is going to be able to look the world in the eye and say we have to do something, we have to have exhausted the possibilities available to us for that diplomatic peaceful resolution. Let me make it clear our approach is not Ronald Reagan’s and the Soviets –We’re not looking at this and saying trust, but verify. Our approach is a much more complex and dangerous world – it’s verify and verify. And that’s what we intend to do.
            “Now, there is very good reason for these sanctions to exist in the first place, and good reason that we have kept the architecture of these sanctions in place. And we continue to enforce it even as we negotiate a comprehensive agreement. In the last weeks, we have announced additional sanctions with respect to individuals who have been tempted to go around it or violate it. We have not changed one piece of the sanctions architecture. And yet we are able to negotiate. Our eyes, my friends, are wide open. This is not a process that is open-ended. This is not a process that is about trusting Tehran. This is about testing Tehran. And you can be sure that if Iran fails this test, America will not fail Israel. That, I promise.
            “Now, we have taken no options off the table, but so far there is no question but that tough sanctions and strong diplomacy are already making Israel and America safer. The first step agreement, the first step agreement – it’s not an interim agreement, it’s a first step agreement – and the agreement that’s in force today didn’t just halt the advance of the Iranian nuclear program for the first time in a decade; it’s actually rolled it back. And we all remember how Prime Minister Netanyahu highlighted Iran’s 20 percent enriched uranium in the 2012 speech at the United Nations. Well, today Iran is reducing its stockpile of 20 percent uranium. And without the agreement in force today, the opposite would have been in effect. The stockpile would have grown even more dangerous, and the amount of breakout time that they have would have grown smaller. Because of the agreement, Iran will soon have to take its entire stock of 20 percent enriched uranium down to zero. Zero. Zero. You don’t have to be a math major to know that Israel is safer when Iran has zero uranium enriched to 20 percent, and that’s what we’ve achieved.
            “The same independent inspectors who also tell us that Iran has halted its advances on the heavy water reactor known as the Arak reactor, without the agreement in force today, we could not have stopped them making progress on the Arak heavy water reactor, plutonium reactor. Iran has also stopped enriching all uranium above 5 percent, and it has given inspectors daily access to the facilities at Natanz and at Fordow. You know Fordow, you’ve heard about it, that underground facility that was a secret for so long. We’ve never had people in it. But because of this first step agreement, we now have people inside Fordow every single day telling us what is happening.
            “None of these things would have happened without forceful diplomacy by the United States and our international partners. But now, my friends, we have to finish the job. Like I tell my staff, there aren’t any exit polls in foreign policy. It’s results that count, final results. And that means we have to let forceful diplomacy keep working in order to put this test to Iran.
            “Now, right now we are carefully – and I mean carefully – negotiating a comprehensive agreement. We are consulting with our friends in Israel constantly. The minute Under Secretary Wendy Sherman finished her last set of meetings in Vienna the other day, she went immediately to Israel, briefed thoroughly on the talks, then went to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates and continued to brief and briefed our European partners.
            “You might be asking: If no deal is better than a bad deal, what does the United States consider a good deal? Well, you have my word – and the President’s – that the United States will only sign an agreement that answers three critical questions the right way. First, will it make certain that Iran cannot obtain a nuclear weapon? Second, can it continuously assure the world that Iran’s program remains entirely peaceful as it claims? And third, will the agreement increase our visibility on the nuclear program and expand the breakout time so that if they were to try to go for a bomb, we know we will have time to act?
            “Those are the tests. Those are our standards for any comprehensive agreement. It’s that simple. And those objectives, if they’re not met, then there won’t be an agreement. Now make no mistake, make no mistake; we can’t resolve the answer to those questions. It’s up to Iran. It’s up to Iran to prove to the world that its program is peaceful, and the world will hold Iran accountable.
            “Now, if it turns out that Iran cannot address the world’s concerns, I guarantee you it will face more pressure, Iran will face more pressure, more and more isolation. And Congress will introduce more tough sanctions. And let me assure you – I know Eric Cantor is here, sitting here – I assure you it’ll take about two hours to get it through the House and the Senate and it won’t be delayed and the Congress will have to do nothing more than schedule the vote, because President Obama and I fully support those sanctions under those circumstances.
            “In the meantime, as I said earlier, we are enforcing every letter of the existing sanctions. I have personally instructed every State Department bureau and mission around the world to watch vigilantly for any signs of the sanctions being skirted. And to any country that wants to trade with Iran with these sanctions firmly in place, the United States will tell them exactly what I have told foreign leaders in no uncertain terms: Iran is not open for business until Iran is closed for nuclear bombs.
            March 3, 2014 at the AIPAC conference
Treasury Secretary Jack Lew
      “We now have in place the most sweeping, most powerful, most innovative, and most comprehensive sanctions regime in history.  And because of the impact of these unprecedented, international sanctions, Iran finally came to the negotiating table seeking relief and fully aware that to get relief, it had to take concrete steps to curtail its nuclear program.  Those negotiations led to the Joint Plan of Action, which went into effect in January. 
            “Today, for the first time in a decade, progress on Iran’s nuclear program has been halted and key elements have been rolled back. 
            “The temporary deal struck in Geneva provides us with a six-month diplomatic window to try to hammer out a comprehensive, long-term resolution, without fear that Iran, in the meantime, will advance its nuclear program.  Now, I want to emphasize something: Before we agree to any comprehensive deal, Iran will have to provide real proof that its nuclear program, whatever it consists of, is—and will remain—exclusively peaceful. 
            “Yet make no mistake: Even as we pursue diplomacy, and even as we deliver on our commitments to provide limited sanctions relief, the vast majority of our sanctions remain firmly in place.  Right now, these sanctions are imposing the kind of intense economic pressure that continues to provide a powerful incentive for Iran to negotiate.  And we have sent the very clear signal to the leadership in Tehran that if these talks do not succeed, then we are prepared to impose additional sanctions on Iran and that all options remain on the table to block Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
            “We are under no illusions about who we are dealing with.  Iran has threatened Israel’s very existence, supports terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah, and has failed to live up to its promises in the past.
            “Still, it is critically important that we give negotiations, backed by continuing economic pressure, a chance to succeed.  I have sat with two presidents as they weighed the enormous decision to send men and women into harm’s way to protect our nation.  And while all options must remain available, I believe it is our responsibility to do as much as we reasonably can to reserve force as a last option.
            “To that end, we do not believe that now is the time to adopt new sanctions legislation.  We do not need new sanctions now – the sanctions in place are working to bring Iran to the negotiating table and passing new sanctions now could derail the talks that are underway and splinter the international cooperation that has made our sanctions regime so effective.  But as I have said, and as President Obama has said, we continue to consult closely with Congress, and if these talks fail, we will be the first to seek even tougher sanctions.
            “The Treasury Department, which administers and enforces the sanctions, monitors the numbers carefully.  And when you consider the ongoing sanctions that remain in place, the temporary, targeted, and reversible sanctions relief is extremely limited—totaling an estimated $7 billion.  To put that into context, during the same six month period, Iran will lose roughly $30 billion in oil sales alone from the sanctions that remain in place.
            “Put simply, this relief will not enable Iran’s economy to recover from the deep economic damage inflicted by the sanctions program.  The bulk of this relief does not come from suspending sanctions on economic activity like manufacturing or exports.  It comes from the measured release of Iran’s own funds that are now impounded in overseas banks.  The fact is, because of years of sanctions enforcement, Iran has about $100 billion locked up in overseas banks.  The interim agreement allows Iran to access $4.2 billion of these funds.
            “If at any point Iran fails to fulfill its commitments under the Joint Plan, the money will stop, and the suspended sanctions will snap right back into place.  And when the six-month deal expires, so does the relief.  
            “All told, the crushing sanctions have deeply damaged economic conditions in Iran. There are four key indicators that tell the whole story: first, last year the economy shrunk by 6 percent and it is expected to shrink again this year; second, the value of its currency, the rial, has plummeted, having lost about 60 percent of its value against the dollar; third, the unemployment rate is over 15 percent; and finally, the inflation rate is about 30 percent, one of the highest in the world. The economic sanctions have crippled Iran’s economy on many fronts.
            “Claims that Iran’s economy is undergoing a recovery because of the Joint Plan of Action are just plain wrong.  After the election of President Rouhani last June, and well before the Joint Plan took effect, there was a slight drop in the country’s very high inflation rate and small improvements in other economic indicators.  This was due to a wave of public optimism that greeted the election of a new president, the appointment of a more capable economic team, and the hope that a deal to lift sanctions would soon materialize. 
            “There is no question that the relief provided under the six-month plan will not steer Iran’s economy to a real recovery.  It is a drop in the bucket.  In fact, there will be a net deepening of the impact of sanctions when you consider the new damage that will be inflicted like the $30 billion in additional lost oil sales. 
            “What this relief will do is give the people of Iran and their leaders a small taste of how things could improve if they were to take the steps necessary to join the community of nations.  This is a choice for Iran to make. If it wants to pull its economy out of the deep hole it is in, it must remove any doubt that its nuclear program is peaceful and come to a comprehensive agreement with the international community.  Until then, we will remain steadfast in our enforcement of U.S. and international sanctions.
            “Now, when I say we remain firm in our enforcement of sanctions, these are not just words, we are talking about action.  For instance, shortly after the Joint Plan went into effect, we moved against more than 30 Iran-related entities and individuals around the globe for evading U.S. sanctions, for aiding Iranian nuclear and missile proliferation, and for supporting terrorism.  As President Obama recently said, if anyone, anywhere engages in unauthorized economic activity with Tehran, the United States will—and I quote—‘come down on them like a ton of bricks.’
            “Even though I have said this before, it bears repeating: Iran is not open for business. Have no doubt, we are well aware that business people have been talking to the Iranians. We have been very clear that the moment those talks turn into improper deals, we will respond with speed and force.  Anyone who violates our sanctions will face severe penalties. Our vigilance has not, cannot, and will not falter.”
March 2, 2014 at the AIPAC conference



House Leaders Pen Letter to Obama on Iran

      On March 3, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA, left) and Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (MD, right) released a letter expressing grave concern that “Iran's industrial-scale uranium enrichment capability and heavy water reactor being built at Arak could be used for the development of nuclear weapons.” The letter addressed to President Barack Obama notably did not include a call for new sanctions amidst ongoing nuclear negotiations, which some members of Congress had called for in recent weeks. But Cantor and Hoyer urged the president to consult closely with Congress on sanctions relief if an agreement is reached or implementing new ones if talks fail. The House leaders are gathering signatures before delivering the letter. The following is the full text.

Dear Mr. President:
As your partner in developing the broad-based sanctions that – in bringing Iran to the negotiating table – have played an essential role in your two-track approach to encourage Iran to give up its nuclear weapons program, we support your diplomatic effort to test Iran’s willingness to abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions and satisfactorily resolve all critical issues concerning its nuclear program.
Iran’s history of delay, deception, and dissembling on its nuclear program raises serious concerns that Iran will use prolonged negotiations as a tool to secure an economic lifeline while it continues to make progress towards a nuclear weapon. Iran’s leaders must understand that further sanctions relief will require Tehran to abandon its pursuit of a nuclear weapon and fully disclose its nuclear activities.
We are hopeful a permanent diplomatic agreement will require dismantlement of Iran’s nuclear weapons-related infrastructure, including enrichment-, heavy water-, and reprocessing-related facilities, such that Iran will not be able to develop, build, or acquire a nuclear weapon. We do not seek to deny Iran a peaceful nuclear energy program, but we are gravely concerned that Iran's industrial-scale uranium enrichment capability and heavy water reactor being built at Arak could be used for the development of nuclear weapons.
Because we believe any agreement should include stringent transparency measures to guarantee that Iran cannot develop an undetectable nuclear weapons breakout capability, Tehran must fully and verifiably implement its Safeguards Agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency, ratify and implement the Additional Protocol, answer pending IAEA questions, and comply with the transparency measures requested by the Director General of the IAEA, as well as with any additional verification and monitoring measures necessary to ensure Iran is abiding by the terms of any agreement. Such measures should include an agreement granting the IAEA necessary access to inspect all suspect sites, including military facilities, and providing an unfettered ability to interview Iranian scientists and personnel associated with Iran’s nuclear program.
As negotiations progress, we expect your administration will continue to keep Congress regularly apprised of the details. And, because any long-term sanctions relief will require Congressional action, we urge you to consult closely with us so that we can determine the parameters of such relief in the event an agreement is reached, or, if no agreement is reached or Iran violates the interim agreement, so that we can act swiftly to consider additional sanctions and steps necessary to change Iran’s calculation.
Finally, although the P5+1 process is focused on Iran’s nuclear program, we remain deeply concerned by Iran’s state sponsorship of terrorism, its horrendous human rights record, its efforts to destabilize its neighbors, its pursuit of intercontinental ballistic missiles, and its threats against our ally, Israel, as well as the fates of American citizens detained by Iran. We want to work with you to address these concerns as part of a broader strategy of dealing with Iran.
We are hopeful your two-track strategy will convince Iran to change course and abandon its pursuit of nuclear weapons. None of us desires military conflict, but as you yourself have acknowledged, we must keep all options on the table to prevent this dangerous regime from acquiring nuclear weapons.
Eric Cantor
Steny H. Hoyer


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