United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

Part I: Kerry & US on Nuke Talks Extension

      On July 18, the world’s six major powers and Iran agreed to a four-month extension of nuclear talks after nearly three weeks of intensive discussion. Secretary of State John Kerry (left) said that the two sides have “a draft text that covers the main issues,” but that there are gaps in some areas. The two sides have until November 24, exactly one year since they reached an interim agreement, to make a deal. “To turn our back prematurely on diplomatic efforts when significant progress has been made would deny ourselves the ability to achieve our objectives peacefully, and to maintain the international unity that we have built,” said Kerry.

The extension continues all of the commitments laid down in the interim agreement. But in addition, Iran has agreed to speed up its conversion of 20 percent uranium oxide into nuclear fuel and to dilute its up to two percent stockpile. Tehran has also confirmed that it will only produce advanced centrifuges to replace damaged machines under the interim agreement. The following are excerpted remarks from U.S. officials on the extension and State Department summary. 

Summary of Understandings Related to the Implementation and Extension of the Joint Plan of Action
On January 20, 2014, Iran for the first time in nearly a decade took specific and verifiable actions that halted progress on its nuclear program and rolled it back in key respects, stopped the advance of the program, and introduced increased transparency into Iran’s nuclear activities.
The Joint Plan of Action (JPOA) Has Successfully Halted Progress on Iran’s Nuclear Program
To date, it is our assessment and that of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that Iran has carried out the very significant commitments it made, and has taken steps to address the international community’s greatest concerns.  Iran has:  
  • Halted production of near-20 percent enriched uranium and disabled the configuration of the centrifuge cascades Iran had been using to produce it.
  • Completed the dilution of half of its near-20 percent enriched uranium stockpile that was in hexafluoride form, and the conversion of the rest to an oxide form not suitable for further enrichment.
  • Capped its stockpile of 5 percent enriched uranium. 
  • Has not enriched uranium in roughly half of installed centrifuges at Natanz, including all next generation centrifuges, and three-quarters of installed centrifuges at Fordow.
  • Limited its centrifuge production to those needed to replace damaged machines, so Iran was not able to use the six-month JPOA period to stockpile centrifuges.
  • Did not construct additional enrichment facilities.
  • Did not go beyond its enrichment R&D practices that were in place at the start of the JPOA.
  • Did not commission or fuel the Arak reactor.
  • Halted the production and additional testing of fuel for the Arak reactor.
  • Did not install any additional reactor components at Arak.
  • Did not transfer fuel or heavy water to the Arak reactor site.
  • Did not build a reconversion line, which is necessary to turn its stockpile of 20 percent uranium oxide back into a form suitable for further enrichment.
  • Did not construct a facility capable of reprocessing. Without reprocessing, Iran cannot separate plutonium from spent fuel.
Transparency and Monitoring Under the Joint Plan of Action
Iran committed in the Joint Plan of Action to provide increased transparency into its nuclear program, including through more frequent and intrusive inspections as well as expanded provision of information to the IAEA.
Under the Joint Plan of Action, Iran’s enrichment facilities at Natanz and Fordow are now subject to daily IAEA inspector access.  Over the past six months, the IAEA and Iran updated certain monitoring procedures, which have permitted IAEA inspectors to review surveillance information on a daily basis to shorten detection time for any Iranian non-compliance.  In addition, these facilities remain subject to a variety of other physical inspections, including scheduled and unannounced inspections. 
Under the Joint Plan of Action, the Arak reactor and associated facilities have been subject to at least monthly IAEA inspections – an increase from the pre-JPOA inspection schedule permitting IAEA access approximately once every three months or longer. 
Under the Joint Plan of Action, Iran also provided:
  • Long-sought design information on the Arak reactor; 
  • Information to verify that centrifuge production will be dedicated to the replacement of damaged machines; and
  • Managed access at centrifuge assembly workshops, centrifuge rotor production workshops and storage facilities, and uranium mines and mills.
These enhanced monitoring measures enabled the IAEA to provide monthly updates on the status of Iran’s implementation of its commitments and have enabled the international community to have more confidence that it would more quickly detect breakout or the diversion of materials to a secret program.
The Impact of the Joint Plan of Action on Iran’s Economy
Meanwhile, Iran still faces significant economic challenges and the limited relief provided under the Joint Plan of Action did not come close to “fixing” the Iranian economy.  
  • Iran’s economy is now around 25 percent smaller than it would have been had it remained on its pre-2011 growth path.
  • The vast majority of Iran’s approximately $100 billion in foreign exchange holdings remain inaccessible to Iran or restricted by sanctions.
  • Iran has lost an estimated $120 billion in oil revenues since the beginning of 2012, and is able to use only a small fraction of the revenue it earns.  It will lose $15 billion more to oil sanctions during this four-month extension.
  • Iran’s economy contracted nearly 7 percent in the last Persian year and contracted a further 3.4 percent through December 2013.  
  • Iran’s average annual inflation hovered over 30 percent last year, one of the highest rates in the world. 
  • Iran's currency, the rial, has declined by approximately 7 percent since November 24, 2013, when the Joint Plan of Action was reached by the P5+1 and Iran.
  • Most of Iran’s banks remain cut off from the international financial system.
Details of the Extension of the Joint Plan of Action
The Joint Plan of Action has given us the time and space to work to negotiate a comprehensive solution that will assure the world that Iran will not obtain a nuclear weapon and that its program is exclusively peaceful.  
Over the last six months, we have made meaningful progress on some key issues, although we remain far apart on others. Today, we have a draft text that covers the main issues and identifies the key areas of disagreement, and we’ve discussed in great detail all of the elements that will have to be included in any comprehensive solution. As a result, we decided – along with the EU, our other P5+1 partners, and Iran – to extend the Joint Plan of Action until November 24, exactly one year since we finalized the first step understanding in Geneva. This will give us additional time to work to conclude a comprehensive solution, which we believe is warranted by the progress we’ve made and the path forward we can envision.  Under this extension, Iran and the P5+1 and the EU will continue to uphold their commitments in the Joint Plan of Action. Iran’s nuclear program will remain frozen and rolled back in key areas, including by continuing to cap the amount of 5 percent enriched uranium hexafluoride and convert any material over that amount to oxide.  Increased access for international monitors will continue.
Iran will also take further nuclear-related steps in the next four months that are consistent with its commitments under the Joint Plan of Action.  Under the Joint Plan of Action, Iran diluted half of its 20 percent enriched uranium hexafluoride and converted the rest to oxide. Under this extension, Iran has committed to go one step further and make all of this 20 percent oxide into fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor. Twenty-five kilograms of this material will be fabricated into fuel by the end of the extension. Turning this material from oxide to fuel means it would be even more difficult and time consuming for Iran to turn it into fissile material in a breakout scenario, and attempting to do so would be even more readily detected by the IAEA and would be an unambiguous sign of an intent to produce a weapon.
Iran has also committed to convert all of its very low enriched uranium – enriched up to 2 percent and estimated to be at least three metric tons – into natural uranium, further reducing its utility in a breakout scenario.
In return, we will continue to suspend the sanctions we committed to suspend under the Joint Plan of Action and will allow Iran access to $2.8 billion dollars of its restricted assets, the four-month prorated amount of the original Joint Plan of Action commitment.
Our goal in pursuing this brief extension was to capitalize on the progress we’ve already made, while giving us the best chance of success to reach a comprehensive solution at the end of this process. 
A Historic Opportunity to Peacefully Achieve Our Objective
We have the unique opportunity to peacefully achieve our objective of preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.  That would be good for the security of the United States, our regional allies and partners, and the entire world.  These negotiations represent our best chance at a lasting diplomatic solution that addresses our concerns.  We knew that reaching a comprehensive solution would be difficult, and though progress has been made, these efforts may not ultimately succeed. 
Our goal remains clear: to negotiate a comprehensive deal that prevents Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.  Over the next four months – building on the progress we’ve already made – we will determine whether there is a solution that gives us sufficient confidence that the Iranian program is exclusively peaceful.  
Special Briefing by Senior Administration Officials
July 18, 2014
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: First of all, as we’ve indicated, we are very pleased with the successful implementation of the Joint Plan of Action over the course of the last six months. Iran has met all of its commitments with respect to its nuclear program: neutralizing the 20 percent stockpile; capping their 5 percent stockpile; not installing new components or testing new components at the Arak facility; not installing new advanced centrifuges; and enabling much more robust inspections of their nuclear facilities. So we believe the Joint Plan of Action has been a success in halting the progress of the Iranian program and rolling it back in exchange for a relatively modest relief that has been provided over the six months.
Of course, the purpose of the Joint Plan of Action was also to create space for the negotiation of a comprehensive solution, and that’s what we’ve been pursuing these last six months. There have been difficult negotiations. Frankly, as we entered this latest round at the beginning of July, had we not made progress it was not by any means a forgone conclusion that we would pursue an extension, because our view was the Joint Plan of Action is not a new status quo, but rather a means of getting us the space to reach an agreement. So we wanted to see if there could be sufficient progress in these latest negotiations to, again, in our minds justify a continued dedication of time and effort. And that was very much the President’s direction to the team as they headed out to Vienna at the beginning of the month.
We did see good progress in a range of areas over the last several weeks, even as there continue to be gaps, particularly as we discuss various proposals for issues related to the Arak facility, related to the future of the Fordow facility, related to Iran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium, and then related to the type of monitoring and inspections regime that would accompany part of a long-term agreement, issues that get at fundamental pathways to a nuclear weapon that we want to deal with in the course of a comprehensive agreement.
So that doesn’t mean we’ve resolved all of those issues completely, but it does mean that we saw openings and progress and creative proposals that began to see a potential assurance that elements of the Iranian program could be assured as peaceful to our satisfaction.
At the same time, there continue to be important gaps, however, between the parties. We, for instance, have highlighted the issue of domestic enrichment and the number of centrifuges that Iran would be operating as a part of the agreement as one very important remaining gap that has to be worked through.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: We made some progress… on the low enrichment, on the stockpile of low-enriched uranium, on enhanced monitoring and verification mechanisms, on some other key issues, R&D, PMD, and of course, enrichment capacity. We still have a considerable way to go, but even in those areas, ideas have been put on the table that have enough stature that they’re worth considering.
So what we are doing now is, having seen that we weren’t going to get to that comprehensive agreement – and this is a very complex technical negotiation with – really, it will end up being quite a long set of annexes that detail the political commitments – we began to discuss whether an extension made sense. Secretary Kerry came here and, as [Senior Administration Official One] said, assessed what was going on, took back his thoughts and ideas to the President, met with the President, gave us instructions here on behalf of the President to see if we could not move forward on an extension.
This extension of the Joint Plan of Action continues all of the commitments that are on the Joint Plan of Action and is meant to be simply an extension of that plan a year from when it was first executed to November 24th, 2014. But in addition, Iran has agreed that it will move forward in a more expeditious manner to complete the fabrication of all 20 percent oxide in Iran into fuel in a timely manner, and will indeed during this four-month period fabricate 25 kilograms of its 20 percent oxide into fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor. In addition, Iran will dilute all of its up to two percent stockpile. That is at least three metric tons. And although it doesn’t hold much SWU, separate work units – that’s the measure of energy, so to speak – at the moment, in a breakout scenario it’s quite significant and quite important. So we think this is a big step forward.
In addition, Iran has taken some undertakings to clarify two critical issues in the Joint Plan of Action. One is confirming that rotors for advanced centrifuges at the Natanz pilot plant will only be produced at facilities to which the IAEA has monthly access, and they have confirmed that production of advanced centrifuges will only be to replace damaged machines. For those of you who follow all of this, you know that these are meaningful steps forward, in fact, on the road to the kinds of things we need to do in a comprehensive plan of action.
What we were really trying to do with this extension, and what is quite critical is to create the space to try to see if we cannot achieve a Comprehensive Joint Plan of Action. It wasn’t for an end in itself, but rather to create the time and space in the same manner that the Joint Plan of Action did to see if we can, in fact, get to that Comprehensive Joint Plan of Action to ensure that Iran will not obtain a nuclear weapon and that its program is exclusively peaceful.
I think everyone here feels that we achieved a balanced way forward for these four months. And now, quite frankly, the excruciating and quite difficult hard work begins. And we will do this in a whole variety of ways, in a whole variety of formats. There is no question that the UN General Assembly will become a focal point or a fulcrum for these negotiations. And as you’ve heard the President and the Secretary say many times, no deal is better than a bad deal. But I would also add that what we are aiming for is the right deal, one that will meet the objectives that the President has set out and that he has shown leadership to the world to create a much more secure path for all of us.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL THREE: We will continue the suspension of the sanctions on automotive imports into Iran, petrochemical exports, and trade in gold. I will note that during the Joint Plan of Action period – the first six months – Iran derived very little value from those sanctions’ suspension. We estimated the total value of the relief in the Joint Plan of Action would be in the neighborhood of $6 to 7 billion, and I think it has actually come in less than that. Critically, the overwhelming majority of our sanctions, including the key oil, banking, and financial sanctions, all remain in place. And we will continue to vigorously enforce those sanctions throughout the extension period.
And as part of the JPOA extension, Iran will be allowed access in tranches over the next four months to $2.8 billion from its restricted overseas assets. Those assets, which are unavailable to Iran, largely unavailable to Iran, are more than $100 billion. Those assets have actually increased over the course of the Joint Plan of Action as the oil revenues that Iran has been earning have been poured into these restricted accounts. So they will get access to $2.8 billion from these restricted accounts, which is the pro-rated amount of the relief that was provided in the JPOA period, which had been $4.2 billion.
Now, throughout this short-term extension of the JPOA in the next four months, we will continue to emphasize to businesses around the world that Iran is not open for business. That has not changed. As President Obama indicated, we’ll continue to come down like a ton of bricks on those who evade or otherwise facilitate the circumvention of our sanctions. And we’ll make clear to the world, as we have all along, that Iran continues to be cut off from the international financial system, with its most significant banks subject to sanction, including its central bank; that any foreign bank that transacts with any designated Iranian bank can lose its access to the U.S. financial system; that investment and support to Iran’s oil and petrochemical sectors is still subject to sanctions; that Iran’s currency, the rial, is still subject to sanctions, as is Iran’s ability to obtain the U.S. dollar; and that all U.S., EU, and UN designations of illicit actors, which number more than 600 at this place – at this point, all remain in place; and that the broad restrictions on U.S. trade with Iran also remain in place.
QUESTION: Could you please address the question of whether the extension is going to be a hard sell for President Obama and his team with Congress, and also with Israel?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Look, candidly, before the Joint Plan of Action was reached, I think there were public disagreements with Israel. Some of that flowed from the fact that elements of the Joint Plan of Action, or elements that were in support of the Joint Plan of Action, were discussed in a sensitive bilateral channel, so there was not a full transparency at every juncture with Israel and some of our partners. We endeavored, over the course of the last six months, to be much more transparent and to consult on a very regular basis with Israel and our other partners.
I think it’s also fair to say that the Joint Plan of Action has over-performed in many respects. Iran has kept its commitments. The additional transparency and monitoring has gone forward, and the sanctions regime has held in place. And one of the concerns that was voiced by some in November and December is that the limited relief that we were providing would essentially snowball into many tens of billions of dollars in relief. That hasn’t taken place because of our continued enforcement of the sanctions regime. So, in other words, I think the Joint Plan of Action has over-performed in a way that provides a greater degree of comfort, although not complete comfort.
Now with respect to the extension itself, we have been consulting with Congress very actively the last couple of weeks, so we have briefed regularly members in both the House and the Senate. There’s obviously a diversity of views in Congress about the negotiations and about what should be involved in a comprehensive resolution, even as I do think there’s an appreciation for some of the good progress that was made in the implementation of the Joint Plan of Action. I think what we are able to say to Congress today is there are very specific areas where we have made concrete progress. When we talk about how we are going to approach the future of the Arak facility and some of the proposals that have been made there; the future of the Fordow facility, which has been of particular concern because of the covert way in which it was developed and how deep underground it is; when you talk about the management of the stockpile and some of the transparency and monitoring proposals, you begin to see elements that would be contained in a comprehensive agreement that could assure an Iranian program that’s peaceful, that cut off key pathways to a weapon, be it a pathway through the Iraq reactor or the Fordow reactor. And yes, while there are gaps, and while there are gaps on particularly important issues like centrifuges and domestic enrichment inside of Iran, that there is significant progress that this is a serious negotiation, that we’re not just in talks for talks’ sake, we’re not just re-upping this for the sake of re-upping it; that we can show the ball has moved down the field. And we believe, with some more time, there is a prospect – not a guarantee, but a very real prospect – of potentially coming to an agreement that can assure us that the Iranian program is peaceful.
And then secondly, I think what we will be able to say to Congress is that not only will we maintain the progress that is embedded in the JPOA for the same prorated rate of modest relief that we’ve provided in the first six months, but there are additional steps that Iran is taking over the course of the four months that do have value in terms of converting that oxide from the 20 percent stockpile into fuel, in terms of dealing with that stockpile of up to 2 percent, and in terms of some of the additional R&D issues that my colleague spoke to, so that there is added value in what is being done over the course of the next four months as it relates to our proliferation concerns. All of that adds up to, we believe, a very strong and clear case for four more months to pursue a comprehensive resolution and to maintain the progress in the JPOA, and to add the additional elements that Iran has agreed to, all for very modest relief.
QUESTION: When do you think you’ll be back to – are your teams now leaving – are the teams now leaving Vienna today or over the weekend, and when will you resume the talks heading into this next extension of four months?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: What we believe very strongly is that everyone needs to take the time to go back to capitals and think about what’s gone on here, think about the way ahead, do some of the intellectual work that is necessary, do some of the technical work that is necessary to follow up on the myriad of ideas that have been put on the table here. There is quite a book of ideas, concepts, possible solutions. And, quite frankly, when you’re here in the middle of a negotiations is not the best time to do the technical work, to think through whether they are solutions or not. So everybody needs to take some time to do that kind of work in a reflective way.
We expect that there will be in some format some discussions yet during the month of August, whether that’s with Baroness Ashton and Foreign Minister Zarif, whether that’s among political directors, whether that’s a preliminary discussion either bilaterally, trilaterally, or in the P5+1 with Iran that’s not clear. As I said, the UN General Assembly will be a fulcrum both ahead of it, during it, and after it, because we have a lot of players there and an easy way to really get some business done.
So that’s on the sort of how we’re going to resume and where we’re going to go. I expect it to be extremely intensive, as it always is.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL THREE: During the course of the JPOA the first – the six months of the JPOA, Iran sold oil worth about $25 billion. The vast majority of that revenue has gone into restricted accounts. Some of it has been released as part of the agreement in the JPOA, and some of it can be used for bilateral trade or for humanitarian trade, but we think that the amounts that are building up in these accounts is – I can’t give you a precise figure on it, but the amounts are continuing to build up beyond the $100 billion that they had at the beginning of the JPOA period.
QUESTION: Could someone just run us very quickly through again what we’ve agreed on the 2 percent and on the R&D?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Iran has confirmed that production of advanced centrifuges will only be to replace damaged machines. So that means you’re not producing advanced centrifuges to use on their own, but rather simply to replace (inaudible). And that’s an important step forward on R&D.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: PMD and R&D. These are very – two very difficult subjects. And PMD, obviously the IAEA takes the lead. We have been very conscious – everyone here has had meetings with the director general and with his team at the IAEA. We want to make sure whatever we do not only in the Joint Plan of Action but in a Comprehensive Joint Plan of Action reinforces the independence and role of the IAEA which verifies all the nuclear-related commitments in the JPOA and would in the JCPA as well.
That said, we have discussed a way forward on PMD, how we can help leverage these negotiations to get the kind of cooperation necessary to meet what the IAEA has set out. As you know, the IAEA will also monitor all the transparency and verification mechanisms, and most importantly, among others, the Additional Protocol, which I believe Iran is ready to agree to in a Comprehensive Plan of Action, and ultimately to be able to assess that there are no undeclared facilities in Iran, which would be quite crucial.
On R&D also a very tough topic because Iran does not want to stop their scientists from thinking, learning, and one can’t take away the capability they have. They know how to do the nuclear fuel cycle. One can’t remove that from the country. So we want to make sure that R&D is for exclusively peaceful purposes, but it’s going to be one of the very contentious subjects in a Comprehensive Joint Plan of Action.
QUESTION: We’ve heard discussion of something that might extend for closer to 20 years that involve a larger number of centrifuges. Can you just update us on where that – where you sort of left that at the end of this session?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFFICIAL TWO: We also believe very strongly that there needs to be a long duration to this agreement so that the international community has confidence that the program is exclusively peaceful. We have said that has to be double digits, but we’re not going to get into a number on this call. We’re still in these negotiations.
QUESTION: There’s those in Congress who want to move ahead with a delayed sanctions bill that would basically kick in if the negotiations failed. For the first official, if Congress sends that bill to the President, will he veto it? And also, are there any plans for the President to speak again with President Rouhani?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: It continues to be our belief that there should not be any new sanctions legislation passed during the duration of these negotiations. So our position on that issue has not changed. We have four months with this extension. We are continuing to see benefits from the JPOA. We are continuing to pursue an agreement that we are closer to today than we were six months ago. So we would continue to oppose new sanctions legislation during the life of the negotiations.
Were the United States to impose additional sanctions unilaterally during the course of the negotiations, we would be concerned that that could put at risk the P5+1 unity that is essential to reaching a good agreement, and could also provoke responses from the Iranians that would not be constructive in reaching a comprehensive resolution.
All of that said, we understand the desire for those in Congress to hold Iran’s feet to the fire. We believe that Congress helped get us where we are today because the sanctions helped create the conditions that brought Iran to the negotiating table. We believe that Iran needs to be aware that there is the leverage of additional sanctions because Congress is ready to act at the drop of a hat. And if we are not in agreement in four months, and if we are not able to point to progress that justifies continued discussions, we would support additional sanctions at that type of juncture.
QUESTION: I had a question about the ballistic missile program of Iran. I wondered if there’s been any progress made in dealing with that, because so far the Iranians have been quite adamant about not wanting to discuss it, though we have heard that all issues raised in Security Council resolutions must be dealt with during the process.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Long-range missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons are referred to in the Security Council resolutions, and so we will have to address it in some way. How we will resolve that issue, how appropriate it will be, I think remains to be seen. I don’t think the aim is to go after the military’s conventional program, though obviously we are all concerned about Iran’s activities in Syria, in Gaza, in Iraq, in other parts of the world that can be destabilizing. But what we are focused here on in this agreement are nuclear warheads that can find a delivery mechanism that endangers the safety and security of the world.
Secretary of State John Kerry
July 18, 2014 statement
As President Obama and our entire administration has made clear, we are committed to testing whether we can address one of the world’s most pressing priorities – ensuring that Iran does not obtain a nuclear weapon – through the diplomatic negotiations in which we and our international partners are currently engaged.
This effort remains as intense as it is important, and we have come a long way in a short period of time. Less than a year ago, President Obama and Iranian President Rouhani spoke for the first time to try to usher in a new diplomatic moment, and I held the first bilateral meeting between a Secretary of State and an Iranian Foreign Minister in more than three decades.
Since that time, we’ve been intensely engaged in a constant and comprehensive effort – the best chance we’ve ever had to resolve this issue peacefully. This effort has been made possible by the Joint Plan of Action, which stopped the progress of Iran’s nuclear program – and rolled parts of it back – for the first time in a decade.
The JPOA was a six-month understanding that went into effect on January 20, and it has been a clear success. Since its implementation, Iran has complied with its obligations to neutralize its stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium; cap its stockpile of 5 percent enriched uranium; not install advanced centrifuges; not install or test new components at its Arak reactor; and submit to far more frequent inspections of its facilities. The International Atomic Energy Agency has regularly verified that Iran has lived up to these commitments. Meanwhile, we and our P5+1 and EU partners have provided limited sanctions relief, as agreed to in the Joint Plan of Action, while vigorously enforcing the broader sanctions regime that remains in place.
As I said on Monday in Vienna, it is clear to me that we have made tangible progress in our comprehensive negotiations, but there are very real gaps in some areas. Today, we have a draft text that covers the main issues, but there are still a number of brackets and blank spaces in that text.
In terms of progress, we have been working together to find a long-term solution that would effectively close off the plutonium path to a bomb through the reactor at Arak. We have been working on a different purpose for Fordow that would ensure it cannot be used to build a nuclear weapon. We have been working to guarantee Iran’s stockpile of low enriched uranium can’t be turned into higher enriched uranium suitable for a bomb. And we have agreed that any long-term, comprehensive solution will involve enhanced monitoring and verification measures that go well beyond the status quo – measures that are absolutely critical in creating the confidence we need that Iran will not be able to build a weapon in secret. There are other areas where we’ve made progress; these are just some of the most important. Of course, on all these issues there is still work to do and differences to resolve, but we have made real progress.
Still, there are very real gaps on issues such as enrichment capacity at the Natanz enrichment facility. This issue is an absolutely critical component of any potential comprehensive agreement. We have much more work to do in this area, and in others as well.
Diplomacy takes time, and persistence is needed to determine whether we can achieve our objectives peacefully. To turn our back prematurely on diplomatic efforts when significant progress has been made would deny ourselves the ability to achieve our objectives peacefully, and to maintain the international unity that we have built. While we’ve made clear that no deal is better than a bad deal, the very real prospect of reaching a good agreement that achieves our objectives necessitates that we seek more time.
As a result, we have decided – along with the EU, our P5+1 partners, and Iran – to extend the Joint Plan of Action until November 24, exactly one year since we finalized the first step agreement in Geneva. This will give us a short amount of additional time to continue working to conclude a comprehensive agreement, which we believe is warranted by the progress we’ve made and the path forward we can envision.
Under this short extension, all parties have committed to upholding their obligations in the Joint Plan of Action. For the next four months, we will continue to halt the progress of Iran’s nuclear program in key areas. In addition, Iran has committed to take further nuclear-related steps in the next four months that are consistent with the types of steps that they committed to in the JPOA. These include a continued cap on the amount of 5 percent enriched uranium hexafluoride and a commitment to convert any material over that amount into oxide.
In the JPOA, Iran diluted half of its 20 percent enriched uranium hexafluoride and converted the rest to oxide. In this extension, Iran has committed to go one step further and make all of this 20 percent into fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor. Twenty-five kilograms of this material will be converted into fuel by the end of the extension. Once the 20 percent material is in fuel form, it will be very difficult for Iran to use this material for a weapon in a breakout scenario. Attempting to do so would be readily detected by the IAEA and would be an unambiguous sign of an intent to produce a weapon.
In return, we will continue to suspend the sanctions we agreed to under the JPOA and will allow Iran access to $2.8 billion dollars of its restricted assets, the four-month prorated amount of the original JPOA commitment. Let me be clear: Iran will not get any more money during these four months than it did during the last six months, and the vast majority of its frozen oil revenues will remain inaccessible. And, just as we have over the last six months, we will continue to vigorously enforce the sanctions that remain in place.
Ultimately, our goal in pursuing this brief extension is to capitalize on the progress we’ve already made, while giving us the best chance of success at the end of this process. Critically, Iran’s nuclear program will remain halted during the next four months. This is in our interest, and in the interest of our allies. And as we pursue this path, we will continue to consult with those allies and with the Congress about this critical issue.
We do so mindful not just of where we hope to arrive, but of how far we have come. One year ago, few would have predicted that Iran would have kept all its commitments under a first step nuclear agreement, and that we would be actively negotiating a long-term comprehensive agreement. Now we have four additional months to determine the next miles of this difficult diplomatic journey. Let’s all commit to seize this moment, and to use the additional time to make the fundamental choices necessary to conclude a comprehensive agreement that makes the entire world a safer place.     
The White House – Office of the Press Secretary
July 18, 2014
Statement by the Press Secretary on the Extension of Iran Nuclear Talks
Over the past year, the United States – in coordination with the European Union and our P5+1 partners – has undertaken an unprecedented diplomatic effort with the Islamic Republic of Iran to achieve a comprehensive solution to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. We reached an initial milestone in November when all of the parties agreed to the Joint Plan of Action, under which Iran committed to halt the progress of its nuclear program, roll it back in key respects, and allow for unprecedented access for international inspectors in exchange for a modest amount of sanctions relief. 
As verified by the International Atomic Energy Agency, Iran has met its commitments under that initial accord – ceasing its enrichment of uranium to higher levels; taking steps to neutralize its more dangerous stockpile of nuclear material; refraining from installing more centrifuges, including its more advanced models; halting advances at its Arak reactor; and submitting to broader and far more frequent inspections of its facilities. Meanwhile, the relief provided by the P5+1 and EU has been limited, and the overwhelming majority of our sanctions remain in force.
By preventing Iran from making progress toward a nuclear weapon, by making its nuclear program more transparent, and by keeping the pressure on Iran, the Joint Plan of Action achieved its broader purpose – providing time and space to work toward a long-term solution that would ensure that Iran’s nuclear program will be exclusively peaceful. Over the past six months, our diplomats have engaged in intensive negotiations with Iran to reach that goal.   
Our negotiators have made progress in some areas and, while real gaps remain, there is a credible prospect for a comprehensive deal. Because of this – and because Iran has upheld its commitments under the initial accord – we agreed today to extend the Joint Plan of Action to November 24. This extension will allow us to continue the negotiations while ensuring that the progress of Iran’s nuclear program remains halted during the negotiations. The issues before us are complex, and we have more work to do to resolve them. Our goal is clear – to reach a comprehensive deal that addresses the various pathways Iran could take to obtain a nuclear weapon, by imposing strict limits on Iran’s enrichment capacity and facilities, eliminating our proliferation concerns with its Arak reactor, and establishing additional verification measures that will help us detect any covert activities or attempts to breakout as quickly as possible.
Throughout this process, we have consulted regularly with Congress, whose efforts have been critical in supporting this diplomatic opportunity. We have also engaged closely with our regional partners and allies – particularly Israel and our Gulf partners – given our shared interest in preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon and the United States’ enduring commitment to regional security. Lastly, we have vigorously enforced the sanctions regime that remains in place, and will continue to do so throughout the duration of this extension.
Going forward, we have an opportunity to achieve a lasting, diplomatic solution that will resolve one of the most pressing national security issues of our time. We will not accept anything less than a comprehensive resolution that meets our objectives, which is why it is necessary for negotiations to continue. By moving forward, we will be able to preserve international unity, continue to halt the progress of Iran’s nuclear program, and pursue a comprehensive resolution that is coming into shape.
July 20 interview with Fox News
           They’re reducing their enrichment, and the fact is that this is the first time in 10 years, under this current deal, that Iran’s nuclear program is being rolled back.  And I know you and others don’t ever want to give the Obama Administration credit for almost anything, but the fact is this is the first administration to get a rollback in those 10 years, and right now Israel and countries in the region and the world are safer because Iran’s 20 percent enriched uranium is now being reduced to zero, and under this agreement to continue the negotiations for four months, Iran will further reduce the capacity of that enriched uranium to be used by turning it into fuel for the research reactor, which makes it almost impossible to be used in a weapon.  In addition, we have inspectors in their facilities every single day.  In addition to that, they have not been able to move forward on the Arak plutonium heavy water reactor.
           Everybody said at the beginning of this the sanctions won’t work, the sanctions regime won’t hold, Iran won’t do what it’s supposed to, and they’re dead wrong.  Everything that Iran was supposed to do they have done with respect to this, and we believe – and the sanctions have held, and we believe that it is smart to continue the negotiation as Israel even and others said don’t rush to an agreement; a bad deal is worse than no deal.  And we agree, and so we’re trying to move, but we are making some progress, Chris, and we’re not going to turn our back on that progress.  We’re going to try to continue for the next four months, and I think what we’re doing by holding their nuclear program at a lower level, we’ve expanded the breakout time, the world is safer, and this is a smart deal.


Part II: Zarif & Iran on Nuke Talks Extension

      On July 18, Iran and the world’s six major powers agreed to a four-month extension of nuclear talks after nearly three weeks of intensive discussion. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that although the two sides “have made tangible progress on some of the issues… there are still significant gaps on some core issues which will require more time and effort.”

           The extension continues all of the commitments laid down in the interim agreement. But in addition, Iran has agreed to speed up its conversion of 20 percent uranium oxide into nuclear fuel and to dilute its up to two percent stockpile. Tehran has also confirmed that it will only produce advanced centrifuges to replace damaged machines under the interim agreement. The following are remarks by Iranian officials on the extension.
Joint Press Statement by EU High Representative Catherine Ashton and  Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif 
July 19, 2014
             “We, together with the Political Directors of the E3+3 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States), have worked intensively towards a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, building on the political momentum created by the  adoption and smooth implementation by both sides of the Joint Plan of Action agreed on 24 November 2013. We are grateful to the Austrian government and the United Nations for their tremendous support in hosting these negotiations in Vienna.
            “We have held numerous meetings in different formats, and in a constructive atmosphere, to reach a mutually agreed long-term comprehensive solution that would ensure Iran's nuclear programme will be exclusively peaceful. 
            “During the past few weeks, we have further intensified our efforts, including through  the active involvement of E3+3 Foreign Ministers or their Vice Ministers, who came to Vienna on 13 July 2014 to take stock of progress in the talks. While we have made tangible progress on some of the issues and have worked together on a text for a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, there are still significant gaps on some core issues which will require more time and effort. 
            “We, together with the Foreign Ministers of the E3+3, have therefore decided to extend the implementation of measures of the Joint Plan of Action until 24 November 2014, in 
line with the timeframe that we envisaged in the Joint Plan of Action. Iran and the  E3/EU+3 reaffirm that they will continue to implement all their commitments described in the Joint Plan of Action in an efficient and timely manner. 
            “We will reconvene in the coming weeks in different formats with the clear determination to reach agreement on a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action at the earliest possible moment.”
Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi
            “A total of $2.8 billion will be paid to Iran in six installments in the next four months.”
            July 19, 2014
Parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Committee Alaeddin Boroujerdi
           “The message [conveyed] to the public opinion from the extension of the Vienna talks is that the sides have the will to reach a comprehensive and final agreement. We decided to achieve an agreement for the sake of defending our nation's nuclear rights.
            “But this definitely does not mean that we would change our positions in the next four months.”
          July 20, 2014, according to the press  

Iran’s Nuclear Chess: Calculating America’s Moves

           A new monograph "Iran's Nuclear Chess: Calculating America's Moves" by Robert Litwak, vice president for scholars and director of international security studies at the Wilson Center, addresses the nuclear negotiations between the world's six major powers and Iran and the implications for U.S. policy toward the Islamic Republic. The following is an interview with Litwak  and the executive summary of the publication.


Executive Summary
            In Iran, the nuclear issue is a surrogate for the more fundamental debate over the country’s future relationship with the outside world—whether, in former President Hashemi Rafsanjani’s words, the Islamic Republic is a “revolutionary state” or an “ordinary country.” The embedded, proxy status of the nuclear question within this broader political context is a key determinant of whether nuclear diplomacy can prove successful.
            In America, Iran’s nuclear challenge—concern that a weapons program is masquerading as a civilian program—has also been a proxy for a more fundamental debate about the threat posed by “rogue states” in the post-9/11 era. The Obama administration dropped the Bush-era “rogue” moniker in favor of “outlier.” This shift reframed the Iranian nuclear issue—from a unilateral, American political concept, in which threat is linked to the character of “rogue” regimes, to a focus on Iranian behavior that contravenes international norms. Yet the tension between the competing objectives of regime change and behavior change continues to roil the U.S. policy debate.
            President Hassan Rouhani, a pragmatic centrist, campaigned on a platform of resolving the nuclear issue to end the country’s isolation and the punishing international sanctions that have weakened the economy. While acquiescing to Rouhani’s revitalized nuclear diplomacy in the wake of his June 2013 electoral mandate, the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, remains the final arbiter of any prospective agreement. His decision, based on a strategic calculus that has regime stability as its paramount objective, will hinge on how he manages the unresolved tension in Iran’s competing identities—revolutionary state/ordinary country. In short, Khamenei’s dilemma is whether the political costs of an agreement—alienating hardline interest groups, especially the Revolutionary Guard, upon which the regime’s survival depends—outweigh its economic benefits.
            The dilemma of the Iranian nuclear challenge is that Iran has mastered uranium enrichment: centrifuges that spin to produce low-enriched uranium (LEU) for nuclear power reactors can keep spinning to yield highly enriched uranium (HEU) for bombs. Since nuclear diplomacy with Iran is focused on bounding, not eliminating, Iran’s uranium enrichment program, the regime will retain the option—a hedge—for a nuclear weapon. A U.S. prerequisite for any comprehensive nuclear agreement is that this “breakout” period for converting a latent capability into a weapon should be long enough (12-18 months is frequently cited) for the United States to have sufficient strategic warning to mobilize an international response.
            Iran’s nuclear program is determined and incremental, but is not a crash program to acquire a weapon in the face of an existential threat. From a national security perspective, a nuclear hedge is Iran’s strategic sweet spot—maintaining the potential for a nuclear option, while avoiding the regional and international costs of actual weaponization. A hedge strategy that keeps the nuclear option open is not incompatible with a nuclear agreement that would bring the tangible benefits of sanctions relief.
            President Obama has argued that “the pressure of crippling sanctions…grinding the Iranian economy to a halt” presents the Tehran regime with the opportunity to make a “strategic calculation” to defer a decision to weaponize. Sanctions brought Iran to the negotiating table and will crucially affect the Supreme Leader’s decision to accept or reject terms for a comprehensive agreement that meaningfully bounds Iran’s nuclear infrastructure. Such an accord would be transformative because of the nuclear issue’s proxy status in Iranian politics—and for that reason Khamenei may balk.
            A breakdown in diplomacy will not inherently push Iran into a nuclear breakout. Iran has no immediate national security imperative to acquire nuclear weapons. President Obama has declared that the U.S. objective is “to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.” By drawing this red line—preventing weaponization—the president has signaled that the United States would not undertake preventive military action to deny Iran any nuclear hedge option.
            That Obama’s “red line” on weaponization pushes off a decision on the use of force is a reflection of how unattractive the option would be. That openly-debated option “on the table”—what would be the most telegraphed punch in history—runs up against major liabilities: it would delay, not end, the program; could well escalate into a U.S.-Iranian war; carries a significant risk of collateral damage to the environment and civilian population; and could well generate a nationalist backlash within Iran with the perverse consequence of bolstering the clerical regime.
            The challenge of determining whether Iran has crossed the “red line” of weaponization is compounded by the Tehran regime’s hedge strategy, which cultivates ambiguity about its nuclear capabilities and intentions. Iran has made progress along the technological continuum toward weaponization but is unlikely to make a dramatic move—such as conducting a nuclear test or withdrawing from the Non-Proliferation Treaty—that would openly cross the red line of weaponization.
            Obama’s disavowal of “containment” is a reflection of the meaning the term has taken on in the contemporary debate—that is, acquiescing to Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons and then deterring their use through the retaliatory threat of U.S. nuclear weapons. That connotation is an unfortunate departure from George Kennan’s concept of containment—keeping re­gimes in check until they collapsed of their own internal weakness. An updated version of Kennan’s strategy for Iran would decouple the nuclear issue from the question of regime change and rely on internal forces as the agent of societal change.
Click here for the full text.


Republicans Warn Obama on Iran's Missiles

            On July 15, 28 Republican Senators led by Kelly Ayotte (NH) and Marco Rubio (FL) sent a letter to President Obama warning him about Iran’s intercontinental ballistic missile program. “While conducting negotiations about its nuclear program, Iran is simultaneously continuing development of its ballistic missiles” that could be used to strike the United States, the Senators wrote.  “We believe the administration should not conclude any nuclear accord with Tehran without addressing the threat that Iranian ballistic missiles could pose to our nation.” The following is the full text of the letter with a list of the other signers.

Dear President Obama:
With the current round of comprehensive negotiations between the P5+1 and Iran set to conclude later this month, we write to express our serious concerns regarding Iran’s development of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) that could be used to strike the United States. While conducting negotiations about its nuclear program, Iran is simultaneously continuing development of its ballistic missiles. The nuclear negotiations with Iran may provide the best opportunity to limit a threat that already imperils our Middle Eastern and European allies, and that could directly impact U.S. territory.
The U.S. intelligence community believes Iran could have intercontinental capability as early as next year. In 2013, Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James Clapper testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) that the “Iranians are pursuing development of two systems that potentially could have intercontinental capabilitythe belief is about the first time they’d be ready to do that would be as early as 2015.” Last year, the National Air and Space Intelligence Center (NASIC) reaffirmed this assertion in their “Ballistic & Cruise Missile Threat” report. The report concluded, “Iran could develop and test an ICBM capable of reaching the United States by 2015.” In a February 11, 2014, hearing, the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, reiterated the estimate that Iran could have an ICBM capability in 2015.
These estimates are particularly troubling given the fact that experts believe that ballistic missiles would provide Iran with its most likely method to deliver nuclear weapons. In his January 2014 statement for the record for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on worldwide threats, DNI Clapper assessed that Iran would choose a ballistic missile as its “preferred method” of delivering nuclear weapons.
On February 26, 2014, General Charles Jacoby, the Commander of Northern Command (NORTHCOM) and North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), testified that while the U.S. has engaged in the P5+1 negotiations, Iran has “not stopped aspirational goals toward ICBM technologies.”
Iran’s continued ballistic missile development violates UN Security Council resolution (UNSCR) 1929 of 2010 which clearly stated that “Iran shall not undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons….”
In light of these developments and Iran’s continued defiance of UNSCR 1929, we believe that a failure to include restrictions on Iran’s rapidly-advancing ballistic missile programs in a nuclear deal would represent a serious mistake. Curbing Tehran’s ability to research, develop, flight-test, and deploy potential nuclear delivery systems would help slow a potential Iranian dash to an ICBM-delivered nuclear weapon.
An Iran with a nuclear weapons capability represents a grave threat to the United States and our allies, and an effective delivery system is a key element of a nuclear weapons capability. We believe the administration should not conclude any nuclear accord with Tehran without addressing the threat that Iranian ballistic missiles could pose to our nation.
Thank you for your consideration of our concerns.
The letter was also signed by Senators James Inhofe (R-OK), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Pat Roberts (R-KS), John Boozman (R-AR), John Barrasso (R-WY), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), John Cornyn (R-TX), Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Michael Enzi (R-WY), Deb Fischer (R-NE), Thad Cochran (R-MS), Dan Coats (R-IN), Rob Portman (R-OH), Susan Collins (R-ME), James Risch (R-ID), John McCain (R-AZ), Tim Scott (R-SC), Ted Cruz (R-TX), Mike Johanns (R-NE), Mike Lee (R-UT), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), David Vitter (R-LA), Mark Kirk (R-IL), Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Roger Wicker (R-MS) and Saxby Chambliss (R-GA).



Part I: Kerry & US on the Nuke Talks

            On July 13, Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Vienna to check the progress of nuclear talks between Iran and the world’s six major powers —Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States. “We have some very significant gaps still, so we need to if we can make some progress,” Kerry told the press. He met with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif shortly after arriving. The two leaders met a few more times before Kerry spoke at a press conference and departed on July 15. There has been tangible progress on key issues, and we had extensive conversations in which we moved on certain things. However, there are also very real gaps on other key issues,”  said Kerry.
The two sides were aiming to reach an agreement by the July 20 deadline, rather than extend the interim agreement for another six months. Kerry briefed President Obama on the talks, who said he would consult with Congress to determine if an extension is necessary. The following are remarks by Kerry and senior administration officials on the talks.

President Barack Obama
     “John updated me on the negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program.  Over the last six months, Iran has met its commitments under the interim deal we reached last year -- halting the progress of its nuclear program, allowing more inspections and rolling back its more dangerous stockpile of nuclear material.  Meanwhile, we are working with our P5-plus-1 partners and Iran to reach a comprehensive agreement that assures us that Iran’s program will, in fact, be peaceful and that they won’t obtain a nuclear weapon. 
     “Based on consultations with Secretary Kerry and my national security team, it’s clear to me that we have made real progress in several areas and that we have a credible way forward.  But as we approach a deadline of July 20th under the interim deal, there are still some significant gaps between the international community and Iran, and we have more work to do.  So over the next few days, we’ll continue consulting with Congress -- and our team will continue discussions with Iran and our partners –- as we determine whether additional time is necessary to extend our negotiations.”
          July 16, 2014 in a press briefing
Secretary of State John Kerry
July 15 press conference in Vienna


SECRETARY KERRY: In today’s world, it’s an understatement to say that diplomacy is difficult. But diplomacy is our preference for meeting the challenges that we do face all over the world, knowing even as we do that solutions are rarely perfect and nor do they all come at once. But that has never deterred us from pursuing the diplomatic course, and that is exactly what we are committed to doing and doing now.
President Obama has made it a top priority to pursue a diplomatic effort to see if we can reach an agreement that assures that the Iranian nuclear program is exclusively peaceful. In that effort, we have built a broad coalition of countries, including our P5+1 colleagues, to ensure that the international community is speaking with one voice. Despite the difficulties of these negotiations, I am confident that the United States and our partners in the P5+1 remain as squarely focused as ever on testing whether or not we can find a negotiated solution to this most pressing international security imperative.
Over the past few days, I have had lengthy conversations with Foreign Minister Zarif about what Iran is willing to do and what it needs to do to not only assure the community of nations, but to adhere to what the foreign minister himself has said repeatedly are Iran’s own limited objectives: not just to declare that they will not obtain a nuclear weapon, but to demonstrate in the actions they take beyond any reasonable doubt that any Iranian nuclear program, now and going forward, is exclusively for peaceful purposes.
In these conversations, and indeed over the last almost six months since the Joint Plan of Action took effect, we have made progress. We have all kept the commitments made in the Joint Plan, and we have all lived up to our obligations. We have all continued to negotiate in good faith. But after my conversations here with both Iran and with our P5+1 partners in particular, it is clear that we still have more work to do.
Our team will continue working very hard to try to reach a comprehensive agreement that resolves the international community’s concerns. I am returning to Washington today to consult with President Obama and with leaders in Congress over the coming days about the prospects for a comprehensive agreement, as well as a path forward if we do not achieve one by the 20th of July, including the question of whether or not more time is warranted, based on the progress we’ve made and how things are going.
As I have said, and I repeat, there has been tangible progress on key issues, and we had extensive conversations in which we moved on certain things. However, there are also very real gaps on other key issues. And what we are trying to do is find a way for Iran to have an exclusively peaceful nuclear program, while giving the world all the assurances required to know that Iran is not seeking a nuclear weapon.
I want to underscore: These goals are not incompatible. In fact, they are realistic. But we have not yet found the right combination or arrived at the workable formula. There are more issues to work through and more provisions to nail down to ensure that Iran’s program will always remain exclusively peaceful. So we are going to continue to work and we’re going to continue to work with the belief that there is a way forward.
But – and this is a critical point – while there is a path forward, Iran needs to choose to take it. And our goal now is to determine the precise contours of that path, and I believe we can.
QUESTION: How confident are you that you can get an agreement by July 20th? And if we’re talking about an extension, have you any idea how long that could be?
There was a report in The New York Times today, an interview with Foreign Minister Zarif, in which he suggested that the Iranians have proposed freezing their nuclear program for a few years in return for being treated later as a country with a peaceful nuclear civilian energy program. Does this meet any U.S. demands or is this one of the real gaps that you’re still talking about?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, with respect to the issue of July 20th, yes, it’s obviously still on the table and we’re still working, and we’re going to continue to work. The team will be here. They’ll continue to meet. And I will, as I said, go back to Washington to talk to the President and also our team back there in order to assess where we think we are with respect to the progress that we have made.
As I said, we have made progress, and there is work still to do, and we believe there is a path forward, so let’s see what happens in the next hours and days. I’m obviously prepared to come back here if we have the team say to me that there’s a reason to do so, but I have no plans to do so as I leave to go back to Washington to consult with the President.
With respect to the issue of the – what was in The New York Times and the question of a gap or no gap, I am definitively not going to negotiate in public. I’m not going to comment on any stories with respect to substance one way or the other. The real negotiation is not going to be done in the public eye; it’s going to be done in the private meetings that we’re having, and it is being done there. And I might add these are tough negotiations. The Iranians are strong in their positions. They understand what their needs are, we understand what ours are. Both are working in good faith to try to find a way forward.
And as I said, I think we’ve made some progress. Obviously, there’s more work to do. We’ll assess where we are in the next few days and make judgments at that point in time. And we don’t do this, obviously, exclusively. We are part of a team, the P5+1. Our partners, all of them, weigh in equally in this decision, and we need to be consulting as we go forward.
QUESTION: The Supreme Leader of Iran last week had a major speech in which he spoke of Iran needing the equivalent of what some see is as many as 190,000 older-generation centrifuges over the long term, a kind of massive industrial scale. How did you respond – how did you react to this speech? And in your meetings here with the Iranians, have you seen any sign of a new and substantial flexibility on the Iranian side since your Washington Post op-ed two weeks ago, enough progress that could, in theory, justify an extension?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, with respect to the Supreme Leader’s speech on the 190,000 centrifuges, that’s not a new figure. It didn’t come as a surprise to me or to others. And what it is is it’s a reflection of Iran’s current ambitions with respect to a nuclear power program, and it reflects a long-term perception of what they currently have in their minds with respect to nuclear plants to provide power. It is not something, I think, that’s meant – and I think it was framed that way, I believe, in the speech.
Obviously, that’s not – I’m not going to get into what we’re talking about in numbers or whatever, but we have made it crystal clear that the 19,000 that are currently part of their program is too many, and that we need to deal with the question of enrichment. And so all I will say to you is that we will continue to press.
Now I do want Iran to understand, I want the Supreme Leader to know, that the United States believes that Iran has a right to have a peaceful nuclear program under Article IV of the NPT – there’s no question about that – a peaceful program. And what we are now working on is: How do you guarantee that what they do have is in fact purely peaceful and that it adheres to the stated intentions of the Supreme Leader and other leaders of Iran never to have a nuclear weapon?
Now, the Supreme Leader has issued a fatwa. We take that very seriously. The fatwa issued by a cleric is an extremely powerful statement about intent. But it is our need to codify it. We can’t take any declaration because that’s not what a negotiation nor a nuclear agreement is about. It’s about verifiable, specific steps by which parties that have disagreed can agree that they know each of them what they’re doing and how they’re living up to their responsibilities. And that’s what we’re seeing in this particular effort.
So Iran can have a peaceful nuclear program and they know how to get there. It’s by living up to the demands of the international community, the United Nations Security Council; the IAEA questions need to be answered, the additional protocol needs to be adhered to; and a specific set of verification and transparency measures need to be put in place among other things that make the promises real. That’s the nature. It’s not specific to Iran. Any country would be in the same place and need to do the same thing, as they do with respect to any kind of agreement.
QUESTION: Many Iranians wonder – I would like to be very specific – why the U.S. and the world powers would not accept Iran maintain, say, 10,000 centrifuges. And here, I’m not haggling over numbers, but if the other terms of the deal are secure, numbers capped, degree of enrichment low, inspections intrusive – if trust is an issue, they say, both Iran and the United States have their checkered history when it comes to nuclear capability.
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, as I said earlier, when you start asking about specific numbers of centrifuges and so forth, you get into a zone of public disclosure that is just not helpful to the negotiations at this point in time. So I’m not going to talk about a specific number, what number might work, not work, what we will accept, won’t accept. All of those questions belong at the negotiating table, and that’s where they are.
But let me just say, in general terms, this is not an issue of trust. This is an issue of factual process by which you can verify on a day-to-day basis what is happening. Now why do we need to do that? Why are there P5+1 at the table? Why is China joining with Russia, joining with the United States, joining with Germany, France, and Britain – all of them together at the table demanding the same thing, as well as the rest of the world through the United Nations Security Council and the resolutions?
This is not a fabricated issue. The reason that trust has to be built and a process of transparency and accountability has to be created is because over the years, a secret program has been pursued in a deep, under-the-ground, mountaintop facility that was concealed for a long time until it was discovered, and levels of enrichment have been going on on a regular basis and serious questions raised about weaponization in that context.
Now we’re working to answer those questions, and I want to – Foreign Minister Zarif is a tough negotiator. He knows how to fight for what he is fighting for. But he’s been clear, as we have been clear, about what we need to do to try to arrive at a fair, reasonable way to meet both parties’ rights and interests in this situation. And I believe that, as I said, we’ve made progress, and I think both of us can see ways in which we could make further progress and hopefully answer those questions.
But I’m not going to get into why Iran might have done that or who pushed who in what direction or what mistakes were made in the past. You can go back to the 1950s and find lots of things that have happened that have given rise to the relationship we’re in today. What we want to do is try and see if that’s changeable, put that to the test. The first test is to answer the questions and come up with a formula that says to the world this is a peaceful nuclear program, and it cannot be used to make weapons and we know that to a certainty. The test is: Can we know whether or not Iran is able to and is or might be building a nuclear weapon?
Now we’re going to continue to do what we are doing here. We’re going to work hard to try to find this agreement. This is not just important to the United States, Iran, and the P5; it’s important to the world. And it is important for us to try to work hard in order to see if we can find success, and that’s what we’re going to continue to do.
            “I am delighted to be here in Vienna and look forward to my to meeting with my colleagues in the 3+1 in order to discuss where we are in the negotiations, get caught up. And obviously, we have some very significant gaps still, so we need to see if we can make some progress, and I really look forward to a very substantive and important set of meetings and dialogues.
            “And we obviously… this is a very important subject. It is vital to make certain that Iran is not going to develop a nuclear weapon, that their program is peaceful. That’s what we’re here to try to achieve and I hope we can make some progress. Thank you all.”
            July 13, 2014 to the press in Vienna
White House spokesperson Josh Earnest
           “The Iranians have engaged in the comprehensive negotiations in a serious way and demonstrated some flexibility in the context of those negotiations. But on some key issues so far, Iran has yet to be able to make the decisions that are necessary to prove to the world that their nuclear programme is explicitly peaceful.
           “That ultimately is where the significant gaps remain. Secretary Kerry is there to, again, assess the seriousness with which the Iranians are pursuing these negotiations, and will return to make recommendations to the president about the way forward.
           “To its credit, Iran has defied the expectations of some by actually fulfilling the obligations under the Joint Plan of Action. The Joint Plan of Action was predicated on Iran taking some steps to roll back their nuclear programme in exchange for some limited relief of their sanctions regime that's been imposed.”
           July 15, 2014 in a press conference
Background briefing by senior U.S. administrational officials
July 12, 2014
Vienna, Austria
SENIOR U.S. ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: We’ve had a mix of plenary sessions, expert meetings, bilaterals with all of the other countries here, and of course with Iran, and coordination sessions that are led by the High Representative of the European Union Catherine Ashton, who coordinates and leads these talks. Today, I want to say a few words about what we expect from Secretary Kerry’s visit here tomorrow and about what’s happened in the talks during this round, and then of course, I and my colleagues would be happy to take your questions. 
The Secretary is coming to Vienna for consultations with Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif, EU High Representative Ashton, and other foreign ministers from the P5+1, whose schedules allowed them to be here at this time. He will talk with them about where the negotiations currently stand. He obviously will meet with Foreign Minister Zarif and assess Iran’s willingness to make the critical choices it will need to make if we have a chance of getting a comprehensive agreement. And he will see if progress can be made on the issues where significant gaps do remain. 
He will then make recommendations to President Obama about next steps in the negotiation. You all have probably noticed there isn’t a whole lot of time left until July 20th, and this is clearly a critical time in these talks. So in many ways, you could consider this a check-in point by the ministers and all of the delegations, even those who cannot bring ministers here because of scheduling conflicts – the BRICS conference is about to start at the beginning of next week – are sending high-level representatives to add to their delegations.
A few additional points: We remain very united in the P5+1. Everybody has their national positions, of course, but when it comes to having one negotiating position for going forward, we have stayed quite united. The sessions that will take place tomorrow are not meant to be a formal ministerial. There will not be a formal plenary session, but rather, a chance for people to check in with their teams on the ground and with each other. As I noted, the Russians and Chinese both have important business to attend to in Brazil this week at the BRIC summit, which complicated their efforts to come, but are sending senior diplomats to Vienna for these meetings as well. So while I know it’s easy to write a story that the P5+1 is in danger of not being united, it’s simply not true.
Second, in terms of what has happened thus far in this round, we’ve made some progress. But on some key issues, Iran has not moved from their – from our perspective – unworkable and inadequate positions that would not in fact assure us that their program is exclusively peaceful, which, as I’ve said to you many times, we have two objectives: that Iran not acquire a nuclear weapon and that they assure the international community that their program is exclusively peaceful. And so far, on some key issues, Iran has yet to be able to take the decisions that are necessary to meet those objectives.
All you had to do is listen this week to the public comments coming from some in Iran’s leadership to see that we are still very far apart on some issues, and obviously, on enrichment capacity. The numbers we’ve seen them putting out publicly go far beyond their current program, and we’ve been clear that in order to get an agreement, that their current program would have to be significantly reduced. So this is one of the gaps, although, of course, not the only one that remains, but a key and core one.  
And finally, as we said the other day, it’s worth remembering that this is not a negotiating – a negotiation between two equal parties. It’s certainly a negotiation among sovereign nations and we respect the sovereignty of every country. This is not, however, a mediation. This is the international community assessing whether Iran can come in line with its numerous nonproliferation obligations, to which it has been in violation for years. 
QUESTION: We were told that what the Iranian leadership says in public is something you are not focusing on as much as what you hear in the negotiation room. Are you being told the same numbers you referred to in the negotiation room as well?
SENIOR U.S. ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: What I think I’ll say to that is there is no question that we have heard about Iran’s aspirations for its nuclear program in very specific terms and very specific numbers. And that remains far from a significant reduction in their current program. 
QUESTION: You say the Secretary’s coming here to gauge Iran’s willingness. Isn’t it getting a bit late in the day to gauge Iran’s willingness? And secondly, you said Iran has to make some very tough choices. The Iranian delegation has consistently said also that the United States needs to make some tough choices. Do you agree with that, and if so, what are the tough choices you have to make?
SENIOR U.S. ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: I think that the United States has already made a number of very tough choices, and I think that’s evident in the Joint Plan of Action that was negotiated among the P5+1. In that, the President of the United States took, I think, a very bold decision to say that we would be open to discussing a very limited enrichment program to meet the practical needs of Iran. 
He also agreed that we could sit down and negotiate a Joint Plan of Action, that we would make some limited sanctions relief available to Iran and some of their frozen assets in bank accounts around the world if they would take very concrete steps. Iran chose to take those very concrete steps, and we followed through in what our obligations were.
So I think the good news of the JPOA, it shows that in fact we can each take difficult decisions to try to reach an agreement. Now we’re talking about a comprehensive agreement and we’re talking about the very heart of Iran showing the international community, not just with its words, because of course we have the Supreme Leader’s fatwa and saying that Iran has never had an interest in having a nuclear weapon. Now we have to have concrete actions that are verifiable. 
I think that everyone at the table has come with ideas. We have presented a number of proposals, concepts, ways forward, that we think are very thoughtful and acknowledge the tremendous scientific knowhow that Iran has, but at the same time really does mean that Iran must address the international community’s concerns. We’re talking about a decade of violations of obligations under the NPT, such that the UN Security Council has passed four resolutions and required international sanctions that have been imposed by the international community. So that’s really what’s at stake here.
SENIOR U.S. ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: And I would just add that it is certainly late in the day in these negotiations, but it’s not too late for Iran to take the steps that are necessary to give the international community confidence.
QUESTION: Is one of the issues that will be discussed a possible extension of the talks? And, I mean, how workable is this? It does seem that some in Congress – we had a story yesterday that it seems like it would probably go through. 
SENIOR U.S. ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE:  The ministers are not coming here to discuss an extension. The ministers are coming here, as we said in the statement about Secretary Kerry’s coming, to assess the situation, to see whether more substantive progress can be made while they are here, to see that in fact we get done everything we can possibly get done. If, at the end of that process, we have not come to a final agreement, then we will assess where we are and the Secretary will make recommendations to the President about next steps. 
We have always said that if we can make some significant progress, that if we thought we needed some additional time, we thought the world would probably want us to take it, and to get to a final agreement. But what the ministers are coming here to do is to assess whether, in fact, we have made and are making and will make, in the eight days remaining, enough progress that it warrants, indeed, us continuing that work if we cannot get to a final agreement. And as you’ve noted, it’s difficult to do – not impossible, but it is difficult to do.
We have always said we would work till the last moment. We have always said so. I don’t know whether [Senior U.S. Administration Official Two] wants to add something, particularly about Congress, because some of us have lived here in Vienna now for 10 days. Some people got to go home for a few days, but that person did spend some time chatting with members of Congress, so you might want to add something.
SENIOR U.S. ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: First, as we’ve made clear, the Secretary, Secretary Kerry, is focused on determining whether a comprehensive agreement can be reached in the next few days, and that’s going to be his focus when he’s here. 
Now if that can’t happen by July 20th, both the Administration and Congress are on the same page, which is that we obviously have to consider all of our options. But we – it would be hard to contemplate things like an extension without seeing significant progress on key issues. And that’s what we’re going to be looking for here over the next few days. We’re going to be trying to get to a comprehensive agreement and then we’ll think about everything else as we go forward. And in that, I think Congress and the Administration are approaching this with the same perspective.
QUESTION: The statement that you made earlier about the public statements that have been made by Iranian officials, I assume you were referring to the Supreme Leader’s comments a few days ago. What they seem to reflect was a fundamental argument by the Iranians that they still need to be able to move to industrial production; if not right away, then I think in this – in the talk, he said five years from now or sometime after that.
As you look at the fundamental differences right now – not the numbers, but the fundamental differences – is there still a view among the Iranians that industrial production is their key goal? And is it still your view that only, as you said, a very limited enrichment capability for a long period of time is your key goal?
SENIOR U.S. ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Absolutely, our key goal is a very limited enrichment program. As you know, we believe that what would be best is no indigenous enrichment program at all, but if there is to be one, then it should be limited for a very long duration of time. And the United States is on record worldwide, believing that no one should have an industrial-scale enrichment program, that it’s not necessary, that fuel is available on the open market. You all know that we negotiate 123 agreements all over the world about what people’s programs – nuclear programs are going to look like, their civil-nuclear program, how they’re going to provide fuel for those programs.
QUESTION: But we have one in the United States.
SENIOR U.S. ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Indeed we do, but we are one of the original NPT states, so for non-nuclear weapons NPT states, we have worked worldwide to really limit those who have indigenous enrichment.
Now the reality is that, as well, as you know, President Obama has been a leader in the world to decrease the number of nuclear weapons in the world, including our own, and hopes that sometime in the future – maybe not in my lifetime, I hope in the President’s lifetime – that in fact, we have no nuclear weapons. 
So I don’t – I think where we are, in this negotiation, is we believe that right now, we are at a place where Iran is in violation of its NPT obligations and its obligations to the UN Security Council. For some period of time, they’re going to have to have a very limited, very constrained program that will have inspections, verification, monitoring, and a lot of limitations on what they can do. At the end of that duration, they will be, like any other non-weapons – nuclear non-weapons NPT state and will make their own choices.
QUESTION: When you said a limited period of time, how long a period of time?
SENIOR U.S. ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: We’ve said always double digits, a long time.
QUESTION: Can we take from that that Mr. Kerry will be leaving on Monday definitely, or is that still in play?
And secondly, there’s a lot of focus on the enrichment issue, but you said at the beginning that there are some issues that have made some progress. I know you don’t know – I certainly know you’re not going to sit here and list them off for us, but can you give us a sense of whether you feel that those other issues are really – that we all know are really beginning to come together to take shape could be turned into a deal?
And just finally, you said double digits before. Just for the sake of a clean quote, can we say that the U.S. position is asking for at least 10 years as a duration of this accord?
SENIOR U.S. ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: I think it’d be better to leave it just to double digits, even though I take your point. Trying to get a number is a good thing, but I’m not going to give you one.
Second, in terms of the Secretary’s schedule, those of you who have had the pleasure of traveling with the Secretary of State, for me to try to predict his schedule would be an insane feat on my part. I don’t think that, had you asked me in the beginning of the week whether the Secretary of State was going to be in Kabul today, I would have said yes. So if you ask me if he’s going to leave here – come here tomorrow and leave here tomorrow, I can’t tell you a thing. 
All I can tell you is that the ministers are coming here for a check-in. They are not coming here to be the negotiators, to work text. They are here to see if they can help move substantial progress on the areas in which there are some serious gaps. And I think you all understand well enough, in a negotiation, that when parties know ministers are showing up, they’re going to wait to see what can be accomplished. And we hope that something can be further accomplished, because as [Senior U.S. Administration Official Two] pointed out, we need to see some additional progress in this.
As to areas in where there has been progress, there has been some. There are areas in which the gaps have narrowed so that one can see if everything else fell in place, that that would probably fall in place. Remember we’ve talked about this Rubik’s Cube concept 100 times here. You can have every piece fall in place and that last one won’t go into the tumbler until everything else is in place. So one can see that there are places where there’s progress and you might get that final step taken if something else falls into place as well. It’s a negotiation.
QUESTION: You all have had the chance to be in the room with the Iranians when they do show flexibility or there has been progress after weeks and weeks or – I’m sure of arguing over differences. Can you just give us a sense, not on the specific substance necessarily, but how do you see movement with them? 
SENIOR U.S. ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Well, look, when we came in here, we did not have a text. We have a text that we are working off of. There are brackets that remain in that text. But nonetheless, it has made some progress moving forward. Some of the brackets have been taken out. I think Baroness Ashton and her deputy Helga Schmid have worked constantly, very difficult. The Iranians are very good negotiators. Their English is quite good and we – as you all know, this is done in English and words mean a great deal. My lawyers tell me that every single day as we look over this.
QUESTION: Because so much of what they’re arguing for in terms of industrial-scale enrichment and not having to be dependent on a foreign power to provide fuel for their power program at some point is a pride. And I noticed you using language today talking about their technological achievements. Are there ways that, recognizing their research potential or right, would be able to compensate them for a longer delay in this thing that’s very important to them?
SENIOR U.S. ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: We’ll see. As I said, there are a number of ideas that are on the table, a number of ways forward. We’ve also talked in this room that this is a package; this is not about any one element. All the pieces have to come together to reach the objectives of making sure they can’t acquire a nuclear weapon and that their program is exclusively peaceful. I think that what we are talking about here is how you get from where we are today to normal, and that’s going to be a long duration of time because of past history, under a lot of constraints, but there will come a point, if Iran does make these choices, where they will be free to be like any other non-nuclear NPT state, non-nuclear weapons NPT state.
QUESTION: My question is on the role of Congress, and I know I’ve asked you this before, but they don’t seem entirely thrilled with what they’ve gotten. No surprise there. They sent this week a letter; 344 members of Congress signed onto it. And what they said was that there is no such thing as nuclear-related sanctions that are designated in the laws that they’ve passed. Now, your colleague, Catherine Ashton, has said that her mandate is to negotiate specifically on only nuclear-related issues and that that doesn’t include ballistic missile issues or technology, it doesn’t include certainly terrorism-related matters. Do you agree with her on that and do you read the law differently? Is your understanding that the U.S. does demarcate nuclear-related sanctions?
SENIOR U.S. ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: What we have said to Iran and what was discussed in the Joint Plan of Action where we promised, working within our system which has checks and balances, that we would not – we would work with our Congress so that there would be no new nuclear-related sanctions, and we make a distinction between nuclear-related sanctions and sanctions on human rights, sanctions on terrorism, and they – those will all stay in place. 
We are in consultations with Congress. Congress has played a very critical role in this negotiation. I do not believe that Iran would be at the table except for the leadership that Congress has shown on their concerns for these issues and for the sanctions that were passed in addition to the very critical UN Security Council resolutions which passed international sanctions, and the European Union’s actions, and individual countries’ actions around sanctions. I think Congress plays in that regard a critical and leadership role, and we see them as very important partners.
Both the letter from the House and the letter from the Senate really talk about wanting to ensure that partnership continues, that Congress will play an active role in anything that comes out of these negotiations, and we would absolutely agree that they will.
SENIOR U.S. ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: I would just add that I think we agree with Congress that sanctions are not an end in themselves; they’re a means to an end. And many of the sanctions that Congress has passed in partnership and consultation with the Administration have been designed to help produce progress at the negotiating table. We believe the Joint Plan of Action was the result of the strategy we developed. We believe that progress in these talks can be connected to that as well. 
To say that there is not one single sanction that can be lifted in the context of a nuclear agreement, of course, is not a plausible position. Equally true to say that all sanctions get lifted in the context of a nuclear agreement is not plausible because there are, as my colleague said, terrorism and human rights-related sanctions that are quite specifically targeted at other behavior of Iran. 
So ultimately, this is going to be a negotiation within these talks, and then consultation with Congress to determine what are effectively nuclear-related sanctions and what are not. And we believe that we can find a way forward on that that works for everybody.
QUESTION: If the Secretary determines that Iran is not willing to go ahead, is that the moment when you begin discussing an extension, or does his determination mean the show has ended and there’s no purpose in further discussions?
SENIOR U.S. ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: I think we’ve made some progress, and I think that we hope that the ministers being here will build on that progress, and that we can keep moving forward toward that comprehensive agreement. And as I said, it’s not impossible to complete it by the end of these eight days – difficult. But we certainly want to make substantial progress such that we can make an assessment about the best way forward from there. 
I don’t want to prejudge what the Secretary will think or say or what he will recommend to the President of the United States. So this is the check-in. He will have direct discussions with Baroness Ashton. He will have direct discussions with his ministerial partners in the P5+1, with the senior diplomats who are coming here from Russia and China, and with Minister Zarif. And then he will assess where we are and give those of us who are here to continue negotiations – and I would include my colleagues who are sitting up here as well – as I think most of you know, Deputy Burns has returned here as well.
So we will see what is possible and then we will decide what’s the best way forward. But right now, we are entirely focused on seeing what additional substantive progress can be made.
QUESTION: I want to go back, unfortunately, to digits. You mentioned in your comments that Supreme Leader’s words last week basically shows where the gap is, and I wanted to see his position on the timeframe that Iran should have met its practical needs in its nuclear program, is also where it shows you the gap in your positions, or this timeframe that he mentions – not now, not two years, not five years – is something that can help you in the process of negotiations?
SENIOR U.S. ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Well, there is no question that those statements that talk about what Iran’s aspirations are, but not necessarily aspirations that are met today, are – is important. And we certainly have noted that and we hope that that will be considered in working through an agreement for a period of time that is necessary to provide the assurances that the international community is looking for.
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