United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

US Polls on Iran Nuclear Deal

            Nearly two-thirds of Americans support an agreement with Iran that would lift sanctions in return for Tehran restricting its nuclear program, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. Some 72 percent of Democrats surveyed support such a deal compared with 57 percent of Republicans. But only 36 percent of all participants are confident that such a deal would prevent Iran from attaining nuclear weapons. The poll was conducted between November 14 and 17 on the eve of new talks between Iran and the world’s six major powers.
            A CNN/ORC International poll also found that 56 percent of Americans support an interim deal. The results also indicated a partisan divide, with about two-thirds of Democrats supporting a deal. Only about 45 percent of Republicans were in favor of one. The following are excerpts from both surveys. 

The Washington Post/ABC News

Question: Thinking now about the situation with Iran, would you support or oppose an agreement in which the United States and other countries would lift some of their economic sanctions against Iran, in exchange for Iran restricting its nuclear program in a way that makes it harder for it to produce nuclear weapons?
Participants by Political Party
Question: How confident are you that such an agreement would prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons - very confident, somewhat confident, not so confident or not confident at all?

All participants
This Washington Post-ABC News poll was conducted by telephone among a random national sample of 1,006 adults. Click here for more detailed results.
CNN/ORC International
Nov. 18-20, 2013
            As you may know, the U.S. and other countries have imposed strict economic sanctions against Iran while that country has nuclear facilities which could eventually allow it to produce its own nuclear weapons. Would you favor or oppose an interim deal that would ease some of those economic sanctions and in exchange require Iran to accept major restrictions on its nuclear program but not end it completely and submit to greater international inspection of its nuclear facilities?

Favor: 56%
Oppose: 39%
No opinion: 5%
Click here for more detailed results

Obama Briefs Congress, Appeals on Iran Deal

            On November 19, President Barack Obama appealed to key Democratic and Republican senators to support an interim deal on Iran’s controversial nuclear program.
In a statement issued afterwards, the White House said "The initial, 6-month step of the P5+1 proposal would halt progress on the Iranian nuclear program and roll it back in key respects, stopping the advance of the program for the first time in nearly a decade and introducing unprecedented transparency into Iran’s nuclear activities while we negotiate a long-term, comprehensive solution."
On the same day, a bipartisan group of senators urged Secretary of State John Kerry not to endorse a deal that lifts sanctions unless Iran significantly rolls back its nuclear program. Some of the signatories the same members who were briefed by Obama. On November 20, Vice President Joe Biden also discussed Iran with a group of Democratic senators. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid delivered a statement the next day supporting the passing of new sanctions in December. But on November 21, a group of key senators issued a bipartisan statement caling for passing new sanctions "as soon as possible." The following is a readout of the White House meetings, the full text of the bipartisan letter and statement, and Reid's floor statement.


            Today, the President hosted a meeting at the White House with chairmen, ranking members, and other members of the Senate Banking Committee, Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senate Armed Services Committees, and Senate Select Committee on Intelligence to discuss Iran.  The President was joined by members of his national security team, including Secretary of State John Kerry and National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice.  The meeting lasted approximately two hours.
            The President made clear that achieving a peaceful resolution that prevents Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon is profoundly in America’s national security interest.  The initial, 6-month step of the P5+1 proposal would halt progress on the Iranian nuclear program and roll it back in key respects, stopping the advance of the program for the first time in nearly a decade and introducing unprecedented transparency into Iran’s nuclear activities while we negotiate a long-term, comprehensive solution.  The President underscored that in the absence of a first step, Iran will continue to make progress on its nuclear program by increasing its enrichment capacity, continuing to grow its stockpile of enriched uranium, installing advanced centrifuges, and making progress on the plutonium track at the Arak reactor.
           The President noted that the relief we are considering as part of a first step would be limited, temporary, and reversible, and emphasized that we will continue to enforce sanctions during the 6-month period.  He dispelled the rumors that Iran would receive $40 or $50 billion in relief, noting those reports are inaccurate.
           The President expressed his appreciation for the bipartisan Congressional support for the most effective sanctions regime in history.  He reiterated that the purpose of sanctions was and remains to change Iran’s calculus regarding its nuclear program.  He indicated that new sanctions should not be enacted during the current negotiations, but that they would be most effective as a robust response should negotiations fail.
           The President is determined to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, and firmly believes that it would be preferable to do so peacefully.  Therefore, he has a responsibility to pursue the ongoing diplomatic negotiations before pursuing other alternatives.  With this current P5+1 proposal, we have the opportunity to halt the progress of the Iranian program and roll it back in key respects, while testing whether a comprehensive resolution can be achieved.

Participants in today’s meeting included:
  • Senator Dick Durbin, Assistant Majority Leader, Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations, Member, Senate Foreign Relations Committee, D-IL
  • Senator Charles Schumer, Vice Chair of the Conference and Chair of the Senate Democratic Policy and Communications Center, Member, Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, D-NY
  • Senator Saxby Chambliss, Vice Chairman, Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, R‑GA
  • Senator Bob Corker, Ranking Member, Senate Foreign Relations Committee, R-TN
  • Senator Mike Crapo, Ranking Member, Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, R-ID
  • Senator Dianne Feinstein, Chairman, Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, D-CA
  • Senator Tim Johnson, Chairman, Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, D-SD
  • Senator Carl Levin, Chairman, Senate Armed Services Committee, D-MI
  • Senator Robert Menendez, Chairman, Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Member, Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, D-NJ
  • Senator John McCain, Member, Senate Armed Services and Senate Foreign Relations Committees, R-AZ


Readout of the Vice President’s Meeting with a Group of Democratic Senators to Discuss Iran
           Today, the Vice President hosted a meeting at the White House with a group of Democratic Senators to discuss Iran.  The Vice President was joined by members of his national security team.  The meeting lasted approximately two hours.
           The Vice President emphasized that the goal of the ongoing diplomatic negotiations between the P5+1 and Iran is to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.  The current P5+1 proposal would halt the progress of Iran's nuclear program and roll it back in key respects, providing the first meaningful limits that Iran has accepted on its nuclear program in nearly a decade.  The initial, sixth month step would include significant limits on Iran's nuclear program to begin to address our most urgent concerns including Iran’s enrichment capabilities, existing stockpiles of uranium, centrifuges, and ability to produce plutonium using the Arak reactor.  The concessions Iran would make as part of a first step would also provide us with intrusive monitoring of its nuclear program.  Taken together, these measures would prevent Iran from using the cover of negotiations to continue advancing its nuclear program as we negotiate a long-term, comprehensive solution that addresses all of the international community's concerns.
           The Vice President underscored that the relief we would provide Iran as part of the first step would be modest and temporary compared to the substantial, continuing impact of our sanctions, which would be vigorously enforced throughout the first step. 
           The Vice President reiterated that the President has a responsibility to seek a peaceful resolution that prevents Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon before pursuing alternatives.  The current P5+1 proposal has the potential to do just that.
Participants in today’s meeting included:
Senator Richard Blumenthal, D-CT
Senator Cory Booker, D-NJ
Senator Benjamin Cardin, D-MD
Senator Thomas Carper, D-DE
Senator Robert Casey, D-PA
Senator Al Franken, D-MN
Senator Tim Kaine, D-VA
Senator Joe Manchin, D-WV
Senator Jeff Merkley, D-OR
Senator Chris Murphy, D-CT
Senator Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH
Senator Elizabeth Warren, D-MA


Dear Secretary Kerry:
We appreciate your continued efforts, in concert with our friends and allies, to negotiate with the Iranian regime. We also commend the efforts of your negotiating team to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapons capability.  Our negotiators have benefited from the effects of tough economic sanctions in bringing Iran to the table.  Without the Administration, Congress, and our allies working together, we would not have arrived at this crucial point.
Indeed, we support the concept of an interim agreement with Iran that would roll back its nuclear program as a first step to seeking a final settlement that prevents Iran from ever developing a nuclear weapons capability. At the same time, we are concerned that the interim agreement would require us to make significant concessions before we see Iran demonstrably commit to moving away from developing a nuclear weapons capability.
It is our understanding that the interim agreement now under consideration would not require Iran to even meet the terms of prior United Nations Security Council resolutions which require Iran to suspend its reprocessing, heavy water-related and enrichment-related activities and halt ongoing construction of any uranium-enrichment, reprocessing, or heavy water-related facilities. For example, we understand that the P5+1 is prepared to permit Iran to continue enriching uranium at 3.5 percent albeit for civilian use, to cap but not reduce its number of centrifuges, and to continue work around or near the Arak heavy water nuclear reactor. While the interim agreement may suggest that Iran could be willing temporarily to slow its pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability, it could also allow Iran to continue making some progress toward that end under the cover of negotiations. This does not give us confidence that Iran is prepared to abandon unambiguously its nuclear weapons pursuit altogether, as it must.
Furthermore, it is our understanding that in return for certain Iranian actions, the P5+1 would allow Iran to gain access to considerable amounts of capital that have been frozen by our international sanctions. Some have estimated the value of this capital for Iran as much as $10 billion. We regard this as a major concession on our part that would not be justified by the concessions the Iranian regime would be required to make in return. If we are reducing sanctions, Iran should be reducing its nuclear capabilities.
As you know, it is not just the sanctions themselves but the threat that they would continue to tighten that has brought the Iranians to the negotiating table. Easing sanctions now without real, tangible actions by Iran to roll back its nuclear program would not only diminish this threat of future pressure, it could make it more difficult to maintain the current sanctions regime at a time when many international actors are already eager to lessen their implementation of sanctions. We feel strongly that any easing of sanctions along the lines that the P5+1 is reportedly considering should require Iran to roll back its nuclear program more significantly than now envisioned.  
It is our belief that any interim agreement with the Iranians should bring us closer to our ultimate goal which is Iran without a nuclear weapons capability.  We must ensure that the steps we take in the coming weeks and months move us towards a resolution that ultimately brings Iran in compliance with all relevant United Nations Security Council Resolutions, seeks to prevent Tehran from possessing any enrichment or reprocessing capability, and resolves any and all fears that Iran will develop a nuclear weapons capability.
The upcoming round of negotiations could hardly be more important and we must be ever mindful of with whom we are negotiating. Iran has been the largest state sponsor of terrorism for over thirty years; its leaders routinely call for the destruction of Israel; and it arms and finances terrorist groups around the globe. We urge you and your negotiating team to fight for an interim agreement that demands as much or more of Iran as it does of the United States and our allies. We hope in the next few weeks we and our partners will redouble our efforts to gain greater proportionality and to finalize an agreement that demonstrates that Iran is moving away from the nuclear weapons path.
Senator Herry Reid's Floor Statement on Iran Sanctions
Mr. President, I am a strong supporter of our Iran sanctions regime and believe that the current sanctions have brought Iran to the negotiating table.
I believe we must do everything possible to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons capability, which would threaten Israel  and the national security of the United States.
The Obama Administration is in the midst of a negotiation  with the Iranians / that is designed to end their nuclear weapons program. 
We all strongly support those negotiations, hope they will succeed, and want them to produce the strongest possible agreement.
However, we are also are aware of the possibility that the Iranians could keep the negotiations from succeeding.  I hope that will not happen.
But, the Senate must be prepared to move forward with a new bipartisan Iran sanctions bill, when the Senate returns after Thanksgiving recess.  And I am committed to do so.
A number of Senators have offered their own amendments on Iran in the Defense Authorization bill, and I know that other Senators also have their own sanctions bills.
I will support a bill that would broaden the scope of our current petroleum sanctions; place limitations on trade with strategic sectors of the Iranian economy that support its nuclear ambitions, as well as pursue those who divert goods to Iran.
While I support the Admiration’s diplomatic effort, I believe we need to leave our legislative options open to act on a new, bipartisan sanctions bill in December, shortly after we return.


Nov. 21, 2013

             U.S. Senators John McCain (R-AZ), Robert Menendez (D-NJ) Mark Kirk (R-IL), Charles Schumer (D-NY), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Robert Casey (D-PA), John Cornyn (R-TX), Chris Coons (D-DE), Susan Collins (R-ME), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) and Bob Corker (R-TN) today released the following statement regarding the Senate's consideration of Iran sanctions legislation:

             “A nuclear weapons capable Iran presents a grave threat to the national security of the United States and its allies and we are committed to preventing Iran from acquiring this capability. We will work together to reconcile Democratic and Republican proposals over the coming weeks and to pass bipartisan Iran sanctions legislation as soon as possible.”


Political Cartoons Reflect US-Iran Gap

             The new diplomatic initiative between Iran and the world’s six major powers has inspired cynical political cartoonists on all sides. But the sharpest cartoons have run in the Iranian and American press. They reflect longstanding suspicions between the two nations, which have not had relations for 34 years, about whether the talks in Geneva will produce a deal resolving the controversy over Iran’s nuclear program— and ensuring that Iran can have nuclear energy without a capability to produce a bomb. The following are a selection of cartoons reflecting the skepticism about each other’s true intentions.

From the Iranian Press



            “From now on, heavy work, like talks with America and the European Union, is forbidden. You can only do light work..."
            Zarif attended the first round of talks in a wheelchair due to intense back pain. He attributed the muscle spasms to stress from hardliner criticism of his meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry in September in New York. Zarif lay on a bed during his flight to Iran. 

             In Tehran, the failure of the second round of talks were widely blamed on France's last minute stipulations. 

From the American Press




Hanif Z. Kashani, a consultant for the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars Middle East Program, contributed to this roundup.


Geneva Round III: High Hopes, Deep Divide

            On the eve of new talks, key players from Iran and the world’s six major powers remained firmly committed to rival positions but also expressed cautious optimism about an interim agreement. The third round takes place in Geneva on November 20-22. The following are comments from senior officials.


President Hassan Rouhani
            In a string of tweets, President Rouhani was upbeat about tangible progress, hinting at the last minute change in the draft agreement that prevented agreement at the November 7-9 talks. His tweets followed a telephone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin on November 18.
Foreign Minister Javad Zarif
            In an interview with an Iranian news agency, Foreign Minister Zarif used language that hinted at a possible compromise on the controversial issue of uranium enrichment, the critical process that provides fuel for both nuclear energy and a nuclear weapon. He said other countries could "respect" Iran’s right while not formally recognizing it.
            "Iran's enrichment right does not need recognition, because it is an inseparable right based on the NPT [Nonproliferation Treaty]. What we expect is respecting parts of this right," Zarif told the Iranian Student News Agency.
            Zarif, who is also the lead nuclear negotiator, said all participants to the talks share common goals. "I think that there is no serious disagreement on shared goal and the final perspective… I can't see any reason to be pessimist about seriousness of the sides in recording agreed issues."
            On November 19, Zarif posted the following video, titled "Iran's Message: There Is A Way Forward."
The United States
President Barack Obama
            In a press conference, the president pushed back on new Congressional sanctions before another round of diplomacy.
“We will have lost nothing if, at the end of the day, it turns out that they [Iranians] are not prepared to provide the international community the hard proof and assurances necessary for us to know that they're not pursuing a nuclear weapon…
            “If it turns out six months from now they're not serious, we can crank - we can dial those sanctions right back up.”
            Nov. 14, 2013 at a press conference
            In a letter to Congressional leaders, former national security advisers for both Democratic and Republican presidents called for wider backing from the Senate and House for the new diplomatic initiative with Iran. The letter from Zbigniew Bzrezinski (from the Carter administration) and Brent Scowcroft (of the George H.W. Bush administration) also appealed for a delay of new punitive measure to give the “unprecedented” diplomatic talks a greater chance of success.
            We support President Obama’s decision to seek a first phase understanding with Iran to limit Iran’s nuclear program  now. The agreement under discussion would slow crucial elements of the Iran program,  make it more transparent and allow time to  reach a more comprehensive agreement in the coming year.  The apparent commitment of the new government of Iran to reverse course on its nuclear activities needs to be tested to insure it cannot rapidly build a nuclear weapon.  Such an agreement would advance the national security of the United States, Israel, and other partners in the region.
           For nearly two decades American Presidents with the strong support of the US Congress have worked on a two track policy of building ever more forceful sanctions against and pressure on Iran, combined with a willingness to turn to diplomacy when opportune.  It now seems possible that this dual track approach could achieve our goals of preventing a nuclear armed Iran.  
           The United States has had the unprecedented cooperation of its allies and virtually the entire international community in this two track strategy.   Should the United States fail to take this historic opportunity, we risk failing to achieve our non-proliferation goal and losing the support of allies and friends while increasing the probability of war.
           Additional sanctions now against Iran with the view to extracting  even more concessions in the negotiations will risk undermining or even shutting down the negotiations. More sanctions now as these unprecedented negotiations are just getting underway would  reconfirm  Iranians in their belief that the US is not prepared to make any agreement with the current government of Iran. We call on all Americans and the US Congress to stand firmly with the President in the difficult but historic negotiations with Iran.                     
           Zbigniew Brzezinski, Former National Security Advisor
           Brent Scowcroft, Former National Security Advisor
            Russia has been the most optimistic publicly about the prospects of an agreement. President Vladimir Putin called President Rouhani on November 18 to discuss the negotiations.
“Vladimir Putin underlined [in a call with President Rouhani] that at the moment a real chance has appeared to find a solution to this long-running problem.”
            Nov. 18, 2013 in a Kremlin statement
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov
            “The steps that Iran is prepared to set out as its commitments are quite, quite substantial and go in the direction of the demands of the international community at a much faster pace, in fact, than had been expected.”
            Nov. 18, 2013 to reporters
            Israel has been the most critical of the diplomacy, although there is a wide range of opinions among top politicians. The following is a cross section of comments.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
            “They're not giving up any of their capacity.  They have 18,000 centrifuges to enrich uranium to make the core of a bomb. They're not giving up even one centrifuge. Not one. So they're keeping their capacity.
             “I think a lot is being offered by the P5+1 for Iran.  It's getting just an enormous deal, from their point of view, and it's giving practically nothing in return.  They're keeping their infrastructure to make nuclear bombs…But I think also to the signaling inside Iran that it's over, and signaling outside Iran to many countries that will start scrambling for contracts in Iran.  And it's going to be very hard to keep the sanctions regime.
            “I think the opposite should be done.  I think you should not only keep up the pressure; I think you should increase the pressure, because it's finally working…If you want a peaceful solution, as I do, then the right thing to do is ratchet up the sanctions.”
            Nov. 17, 2013 in an interview with CNN
Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert
            “If Iran is serious, why not end this whole affair with an agreement instead of by force? Perhaps we will reach the conclusion that nothing else worked, but we owe it to ourselves to check.”
            Nov. 17, 2013 in remarks to American college students
Zahava Gal-on, Meretz Party leader in parliament
            “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 US 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.”
            Nov. 16, 2013 according to The Times of Israel

Sanctions: How Much is Iran Hurting?

      Sanctions are costing Iran some $5 billion a month —or $120 billion since 2008— according to senior U.S. officials. Overall, Tehran’s economy shrunk by five percent in 2012. Sanctions have also cut Iranian banks off from the international financial system, which has exacerbated rampant inflation. The following are facts and excerpts from an Obama administration briefing on the eve of the third round of talks between Iran and the world’s six major powers.

•  Iran’s currency, the rial, has lost around 60 percent of its value against it against the dollar since 2011.
•  The Central Bank of Iran and most larger Iranian banks have been cut off from the international financial system.
•  Declining oil exports are costing Iran up to $5 billion each month, or approximately $120 billion since 2008.
•  Iran has about $100 billion frozen in foreign banks that it has no access to because of banking sanctions.
•  Iran’s economy shrunk by five percent in 2012.
Background Briefing:
Senior Administration Officials on P5+1 Negotiations with Iran
            Last year, Iran’s economy contracted by more than 5 percent.  And its currency, the rial, has lost around 60 percent of its value against its – against the dollar since 2011.  The international financial links of the most significant Iranian banks have been severed and the activities of the Central Bank of Iran substantially curtailed.  Iran’s oil experts – exports, which currently average only around a million barrels per day, are dramatically down from an average of about 2.5 million barrels per day in 2011.  These declining exports are costing Iran up to $5 billion a month and have cost Iran, along with our other sanctions, about $120 billion – $120 billion since we’ve been at this… [since] 2008, 2009… [over the] last several years…
            Around $100 billion of Iran’s reserves are locked up in foreign accounts today.[1] If we do allow Iran to repatriate some of its money from these accounts during the initial phase, it won’t be anywhere near enough to relieve the underlying stress that we’ve brought to bear against the Iranian economy…
            Iran is isolated from the international banking system due to the intricate web of overlapping international sanctions we have put in place on Iran’s banks and the Iranian Government’s financial activities.  Because of this, Iran cannot easily move money around the world.  So even with limited access to some of their funds, Iran will have a difficult time both moving and utilizing this money.  The commonplace principle that all money is fungible just doesn’t apply to Iran today...

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