United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

US-Gulf Statement on Iran

The following are excerpts from a joint statement released by the U.S. – Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) foreign ministers meeting in Doha, Qatar on August 3.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry joined Foreign Ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states and the Secretary General of the GCC in Doha today, August 3, 2015, to discuss progress and chart out next steps on GCC-U.S. strategic partnership and areas of cooperation announced at Camp David on May 14, 2015. The delegations reviewed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) between the P5+1 and Iran, the conflict in Yemen and the necessity of a political solution there based on the GCC Initiative and National Dialogue Outcomes, and discussed regional challenges as outlined below. The Ministers also previewed the agenda for the fifth session of the GCC-U.S. Strategic Cooperation Forum (SCF), to be held in New York in late September.
The Ministers discussed the JCPOA in considerable detail, including its restrictions, transparency, safeguards, access to any declared or undeclared nuclear facility, enforcement mechanisms, and its regional implications. Reiterating the position expressed at Camp David that “a comprehensive, verifiable deal that fully addresses the regional and international concerns about Iran’s nuclear program is in the security interests of GCC member states as well as the United States and the international community,” the Ministers agreed that, once fully implemented, the JCPOA contributes to the region’s long-term security, including by preventing Iran from developing or acquiring a military nuclear capability. The Ministers called for Iran to strictly honor its obligations under the JCPOA and its responsibilities under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions.
The Ministers reaffirmed the commitments made at Camp David that the United States and the GCC states share a deep and historic interest in the security of the region, including the political independence and territorial integrity, safe from external aggression, of GCC member states. The United States reiterated its commitment to working with the GCC to prevent and deter external threats and aggression. In the event of such aggression or the threat of such aggression, the United States stands ready to work with our GCC partners to determine urgently what action may be appropriate, using the means at our collective disposal, including the potential use of military force, for the defense of our GCC partners.
Expressing concern about recent statements by some Iranian officials, GCC member states and the United States reiterated their opposition to Iran’s support for terrorism and its destabilizing activities in the region and pledged to work together to counter its interference, particularly attempts to undermine the security of and interfere in the domestic affairs of GCC member states, most recently in Bahrain. The Ministers stressed the need for all countries in the region to engage according to the principles of good neighborliness, non-interference, and respect for territorial integrity.
Click here for the full statement.

Rouhani Interview on Nuclear Deal

On August 2, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said that Iran’s achievements secured in the nuclear deal surpassed expectations. In a live interview on state television, he pushed back against hardliner critiques of the agreement. “This idea that we have two options before the world, either submit to it or defeat it, is illogical: there is also a third way, of constructive cooperation with the world in a framework of national interests,” said Rouhani. The following is a dubbed video clip of the interview via Press TV followed by a summary of his key points.

  The 2013 presidential election was a referendum on how Iran should deal with the outside world.

  Iran’s resistance to and resilience against sanctions was key to maintaining its right to a peaceful nuclear program in the negotiations.

  Iran cannot completely trust the world powers that are committed to the deal, but a mechanism can be devised to prevent any side from facing a loss if the other breaches the agreement.

  The fact that the interim nuclear deal between and the world’s six major powers stood for nearly two years could be a sign that the final deal can also last.

  The entire Iranian nation will stand behind the Supreme Leader and will safeguard the nation’s rights just it did during the 1980-1988 war imposed by Iraq, in which Iran never resorted to using chemical weapons.

  Iran is not pursuing weapons of mass destruction.

  Iran met three objectives in the nuclear deal, establishing its nuclear rights, moving out of Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter and gaining sanctions relief.

  U.N. Security Council 2231 will not create national security problems for Iran. Under its provisions, sanctions related to arms for Iran are limited.

  Iran will not give away its national secrets. Its defensive capability will not be diminished at all.

  The government’s successful curbing of inflation from 42 percent down to 15 percent and achieving positive economic growth discouraged the world powers from pressuring Iran during the nuclear talks.

  Iran would welcome foreign investment but not increased imports.

  The deal has opened Iran’s doors to foreign technology and capital and will facilitate Iranian exports after sanctions are lifted.

  The final solutions to conflicts in Yemen and Syria are political. The nuclear agreement will create a new atmosphere and the climate will be easier.

US Report: Human Trafficking in Iran

Iran's government "does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so,” according to the State Department’s 2015 Trafficking in Persons Report.  The report ranks Iran as a “Tier 3” country, its lowest ranking, meaning that the government is not taking adequate measures to combat trafficking problems. The following is an excerpt from the report.

Iran is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Accurate information on human trafficking, however, is difficult to obtain. Organized groups reportedly subject Iranian women, boys, and girls to sex trafficking in Iran, as well as in the United Arab Emirates and Europe. In 2013, traffickers forced Iranian women and girls into prostitution in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region. From 2009-2015, there was a reported increase in the transport of girls from and through Iran en route to the Gulf where organized groups sexually exploited or forced them into marriages. In Tehran, Tabriz, and Astara, the number of teenage girls in prostitution continues to increase. Organized criminal groups force Iranian and immigrant children to work as beggars and in street vendor rings in cities, including Tehran. Physical and sexual abuse and drug addiction are the primary means of coercion. Some children are also forced to work in domestic workshops. Traffickers subject Afghan migrants, including boys, to forced labor in construction and agricultural sectors in Iran. Afghan boys are at high risk of experiencing sexual abuse by their employers and harassment or blackmailing by the Iranian security service and other government officials. Trafficking networks smuggle Afghan nationals living in Iran to Europe and subsequently force them to work in restaurants to pay off debts incurred by smuggling fees. Pakistani men and women migrate voluntarily to Iran for low-skilled employment, such as domestic work and construction. Organized groups subject some to forced labor, under which they experience debt bondage, restriction of movement, nonpayment of wages, and physical or sexual abuse. In previous years, there were reports government officials were involved in the sex trafficking of women and girls. Reports also indicated some officials operating shelters for runaway girls forced them into prostitution rings.
The Government of Iran does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so. As in previous reporting periods, the government did not share information on its anti-trafficking efforts. Publicly available information from NGOs, the media, international organizations, and other governments indicates the Iranian government is not taking sufficient steps to address its extensive trafficking challenges, particularly with regard to the protection of trafficking victims. The government, however, reportedly took some efforts to cooperate with governments in the region to combat trafficking, among other crimes.
Recommendations for Iran
Investigate, prosecute, and convict offenders of sex trafficking and forced labor; increase transparency of anti-trafficking policies and activities and develop partnerships with international organizations to combat trafficking; ensure sex and labor trafficking victims are not punished for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to trafficking; institute victim identification procedures to proactively identify trafficking victims, particularly among vulnerable populations such as persons in prostitution, children in begging rings, and undocumented migrants; offer specialized protection services to trafficking victims, including shelter and medical, psychological, and legal assistance; and become a party to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.
The government made few discernible anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. Iranian law does not prohibit all forms of trafficking. A 2004 law prohibits trafficking in persons by means of threat or use of force, coercion, abuse of power, or abuse of a victim’s position of vulnerability for purposes of prostitution, slavery, or forced marriage. The prescribed penalty under this law is up to 10 years’ imprisonment for the trafficking of adults and capital punishment for offenses against children. Both penalties are sufficiently stringent. The penalty for the trafficking of adults, however, is not commensurate with penalties prescribed under Iranian law for rape. In September 2014, a senior government official publicly claimed the anti-trafficking law was under review for amendment, including specific provisions to improve the effectiveness of the law. At the end of the reporting period, however, the amended law was still pending review by the judiciary and had not been enacted by the legislature. The constitution and labor code prohibit forced labor and debt bondage, but the prescribed penalty of a fine and up to one year’s imprisonment is not sufficiently stringent to deter these serious crimes. It was reportedly extremely difficult for female trafficking victims to obtain justice, as Iranian courts accord legal testimony by women only half the weight accorded to the testimony by men. Moreover, female victims of sexual abuse, including sex trafficking victims, are liable to be prosecuted for adultery, which is defined as sexual relations outside of marriage and is punishable by death. The government did not report official statistics on investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of trafficking offenders. The government also did not report investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials complicit in trafficking offenses, despite reports that such complicity was widespread. The government did not appear to report providing anti-trafficking training to officials during the reporting period. Throughout the reporting period, the government made some efforts to cooperate with various regional governments and one international organization on efforts to combat human trafficking, among other crimes.
The government made no discernible efforts to protect trafficking victims. The government did not report identifying or providing protection services to any trafficking victims, including repatriated Iranian victims. The government reportedly continued to punish sex trafficking victims for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to human trafficking, such as adultery and prostitution. The government held foreign trafficking victims in detention centers and jails until the court ordered their deportation. The government did not appear to operate social or legal protection services for trafficking victims, nor did it provide support to some NGOs providing limited services to victims. The government did not appear to encourage trafficking victims to assist in the investigation or prosecution of traffickers. It did not appear to provide foreign victims of trafficking a legal alternative to removal to countries in which they may face hardship or retribution.
The government appeared to make inadequate efforts to prevent human trafficking. The government did not improve its transparency on its anti-trafficking policies or activities, nor did it make discernable efforts to forge partnerships with NGOs to combat human trafficking. The government made no discernable efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts, forced labor, or for child sex tourism by Iranian citizens traveling abroad. The government did not implement anti-trafficking awareness campaigns. However, it issued several public pledges to cooperate with other countries on anti-trafficking efforts, while a senior government official raised trafficking issues with Pope Francis in Rome in February 2015. The parliament reportedly continued to review for ratification the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC) and its three associated protocols in the wake of the cabinet’s December 2013 endorsement of the convention. There was no indication the government provided anti-trafficking training for its diplomatic personnel. Iran is not a party to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.
Click here for the full report


Obama Tries to Sell Nuclear Deal

In July and August, President Barack Obama defended the Iran nuclear deal in his public remarks. “There’s a reason why 99 percent of the world thinks that this is a good deal,” he said on July 27. “It’s because it’s a good deal.” Congress has until September 18 to either allow the agreement to proceed or adopt a resolution of disapproval. President Obama has said he will veto the resolution if it is passed.

The following are excerpted remarks from Obama on the final nuclear deal.
“As we defend our nation, real leadership also means something else -- having the courage to lead in a new direction, the wisdom to move beyond policies that haven’t worked in the past, having the confidence to engage in smart, principled diplomacy that can lead to a better future.
“That’s what we’re doing in Cuba, where the new chapter between our peoples will mean more opportunities for the Cuban people.  Today, with our American embassy open in Havana for the first time in 50 years, we reaffirm that we will speak out for freedom and universal values around the world.
“But we’re not scared to engage.  We also see the strength of American diplomacy in our comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran -- because we must prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.  And we’re now engaged in an important debate -- which is a good thing.  We are a democracy.  Unfortunately, you may have noticed there’s already a lot of shaky information out there.  So even as I make the case of why this is a critical deal to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, we’re going to make sure the people know the facts.  And here are some basic facts.
“With this deal, we cut off every single one of Iran’s pathways to a nuclear program.  Iran is prohibited from pursuing a nuclear weapon, permanently.  Without a deal, those paths remain open and Iran could move closer to a nuclear bomb.  With this deal, we gain unprecedented access to Iran’s nuclear facilities, and monitor them 24/7.  Without a deal, we don’t get that.  With this deal, if Iran cheats, sanctions snap back on.  Without a deal, the sanctions unravel.  With this deal, we have a chance to resolve the challenge of Iran trying to get a nuclear weapon, peacefully.  Without it, we risk yet another conflict in the Middle East.
“Now, if Iran tries to get a bomb despite this agreement --10 years from now, or 20 years from now -- the American President will be in a stronger position to take whatever additional steps are necessary, including any option of military action, to prevent that from happening.  And those are the facts.  That’s the choice.  And for the sake of our national security and the sake of future generations, we need to make the right choice on this critical issue. 
“And I also want to make a broader point.  In the debate over this deal, we’re hearing the echoes of some of the same policies and mindset that failed us in the past.  Some of the same politicians and pundits that are so quick to reject the possibility of a diplomatic solution to Iran’s nuclear program are the same folks who were so quick to go to war in Iraq, and said it would take a few months.  And we know the consequences of that choice and what it cost us in blood and treasure.
“So I believe there’s a smarter, more responsible way to protect our national security -- and that is what we are doing.  Instead of dismissing the rest of the world and going it alone, we’ve done the hard and patient work of uniting the international community to meet a common threat.  Instead of chest-beating that rejects even the idea of talking to our adversaries -- which sometimes sounds good in sound bites, but accomplishes nothing -- we’re seeing that strong and principled diplomacy can give hope of actually resolving a problem peacefully. 
“Instead of rushing into another conflict, I believe that sending our sons and daughters into harm’s way must always be a last resort, and that before we put their lives on the line, we should exhaust every alternative. That’s what we owe our troops.  That is strength and that is American leadership.
“Of course, even with this deal, we’ll continue to have serious differences with the Iranian government, its support of terrorism, proxies that destabilize the Middle East.  So we can’t let them off the hook.  Our sanctions for Iran’s support for terrorism and its ballistic missile program and its human rights violations -- those sanctions will remain in place.  And we will stand with allies and partners, including Israel, to oppose Iran’s dangerous behavior.
“And we are not going to relent until we bring home our Americans who are unjustly detained in Iran.  Journalist Jason Rezaian should be released.  Pastor Saeed Abedini should be released.  Amir Hekmati, a former sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps, should be released. Iran needs to help us find Robert Levinson.  These Americans need to be back home with their families.”
—July 21, 2015, in remarks to veterans in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
“What we’re doing is presenting facts about an international agreement that 99 percent of the world thinks solves a vital problem in a way that will prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and does so diplomatically.
“And essentially what we've been seeing is Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Energy Ernie Moniz -- who is an expert on nuclear issues -- just providing the facts, laying out exactly what the deal is, explaining how it cuts off all the pathways for Iran to get a nuclear weapon; explaining how it puts in place unprecedented verification and inspection mechanisms; explaining how we have snapback provisions so that if they cheat, we immediately re-impose sanctions; explaining also how we will continue to address other aspects of Iranian behavior that are of deep concern to us and our allies -- like providing arms to terrorist organizations.
“So the good news, I guess, is that I have not yet heard a factual argument on the other side that holds up to scrutiny. There’s a reason why 99 percent of the world thinks that this is a good deal -- it's because it's a good deal. There’s a reason why the overwhelming majority of nuclear scientists and nonproliferation experts think it's a good deal -- it's because it's a good deal. It accomplishes our goal, which is making sure Iran does not have a nuclear weapon. In fact, it accomplishes that goal better than any alternative that has been suggested.
—July 27, 2015, in a press conference with Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn
THE PRESIDENT:  … When I ran for office, I made a series of commitments, series of promises to the American people.  One of those commitments was that Iran would not get a nuclear weapon.  Another commitment was that I would do everything in my power as President of the United States to preserve the unbreakable bond between the United States and Israel, and to ensure Israel’s security.
A third commitment was that, given the lessons of the previous decade, I would never hesitate to use military force where necessary to protect America, its friends and allies around the world, but that I would always first try a diplomatic approach -- not only because war inevitably creates unintended consequences and great pain and hardship, but also because sometimes diplomacy is more effective in achieving our goals.
And the deal that the P5+1 has struck accomplishes each of those promises and commitments that I made when I ran for office. I know that many people who are listening know the basic outlines of the deal, but I just want to reiterate the core of it.
This deal blocks every way -- every pathway that Iran might take in order to obtain a nuclear weapon.  It makes sure that the centrifuges that are currently in Natanz are removed, except for a handful, and it makes sure that they cannot immediately use more advanced centrifuges to build up their capacity to create enriched uranium that might be diverted into a weapons program.
The underground facility of Fordow is converted into a research facility and no longer will have in it centrifuges that could be used to create nuclear weapons or nuclear materials, and might be difficult to reach.  The heavy-water facility at Arak that, if struck by a missile, could create a plume and thereby is more difficult to deal with -- that is going to be reconfigured.
So you have the existing facilities being transformed.  You have a commitment in which stockpiles of highly enriched uranium are being shipped out.  We create then a verification and inspection mechanism across the entire nuclear production chain within Iran that is unprecedented -- more rigorous than anything that has ever been negotiated in the history of nuclear nonproliferation.
And we also preserve the capacity to snap back all the various sanctions provisions that we put in place very systematically -- my administration working in concert with our partners over the last five years, sanctions that ultimately brought Iran to the table -- we have the capacity to snap those back in the event that Iran cheats or does not abide by the terms of the deal.
So what we have done is, for the first 10 years, essentially restricted Iran’s capacity not just to weaponize nuclear power but we severely constrain any nuclear program -- peaceful or militarized.  After 10 years, they're able to obtain some additional advanced centrifuges, but they continue to have to be carefully monitored in terms of the stockpiles that they produce.
And even critics of this deal acknowledge that for the first 15 years or so, we have extended the breakout time so that not only are we on them constantly, observing what they're doing, but if they decided that they wanted to break the deal, we would have ample time to respond in ways that prevented them from getting a nuclear weapon.  The breakout time would be significantly longer than it is right now.
So because of the stringency of the deal, the vast majority of experts on nuclear proliferation have endorsed this deal.  The world is more or less united, with some significant exceptions -- obviously the state of Israel and perhaps others less publicly -- around the deal.  You have seen people who are unlikely bedfellows -- Brent Scrowcroft and Elizabeth Warren -- endorse the deal.  And we have said to members of Congress, we are prepared to answer every single question and provide exhaustive hearings on every element of this. 
The criticisms of the deal have really come down to a few buckets, and maybe I’ll just address those very quickly upfront. Number one, people have said that, well, Iran will cheat.  They're not trustworthy.  And I keep on emphasizing we don't trust Iran.  Iran is antagonistic to the United States.  It is anti-Semitic.  It has denied the Holocaust.  It has called for the destruction of Israel.  It is an unsavory regime.  But this deal doesn't rely on trust; it relies on verification and our capacity to catch them when they cheat and to respond vigorously if they do.  And it’s precisely because we are not counting on the nature of the regime to change that it’s so important for us to make sure that they don't have a nuclear weapon.  And this is the best way to do it.
A second argument I’ve heard is, well, they are going to, in 15 years, have the ability to break out and they’ll be more powerful.  But, in fact, we're not giving away anything in this deal in terms of our capacity to respond if they choose to cheat. We are not giving up our ability to respond militarily.  We're not giving up our ability to impose sanctions.  Any of the tools that critics of the deal are suggesting we could be applying now we’ll be able to apply in 15 years.  But we’ll have the advantage of a deal that the entire world has ratified; that Iran has committed to, saying that it’s not going to have a nuclear weapon.  We will have purchased 15 years of familiarity with their program so that we know exactly what’s going on.  And so anybody sitting in my chair 15 years from now will be in a much stronger position to respond if they at that point decide to break out than a President would next year or the year after.
Number three, people have suggested that this will give a windfall to Iran and they will be able to conduct more terrorist activity and destabilizing activity in the region.  I want to make sure people have some perspective here.  Iran’s defense budget is $15 billion a year.  By comparison, ours is around $600 billion.  Because of the unprecedented partnership we have with Israel, Israel has a much stronger military.  Our Gulf partners spend eight times as much money as Iran does on their military. 
So Iran is a regional power; it’s not a superpower.  The money that they’re obtaining is money that has been frozen under sanctions.  They will get about $56 billion back, but they’re going to have to spend that to prop up an economy that’s been crushed by our sanctions.  Their economy will improve modestly, but there’s no analysis that’s been done by our experts that suggest that they are going to have a qualitatively different capacity to engage in some of the nefarious activities that they’ve done before.
That’s not to say that those aren’t very serious issues.  We have to stop Iran from getting missiles to Hezbollah that threaten Israel.  We have to stop their destabilizing activities using proxies in other parts of the region.  But to do that requires us to better coordinate with our partners, improve our intelligence, improve -- continue to build on things like Iron Dome that protect populations from missiles coming in over the border.  And those are all things that we have to do anyway.  We’re in a much better position to do it if we also know in the meantime that Iran doesn’t have a nuclear weapon.  That’s the one game-changer, and that’s why it has to be our number-one priority.
So let me just close this initial set of comments by saying something about the U.S.-Israel relationship that you raised, Steve.  The bond between the United States and Israel is not political.  It’s not based on alliances of convenience.  It is something that grows out of family ties and bonds that stretch back generations, and shared values and shared commitments and shared beliefs in democracy.  And like all families, sometimes there are going to be disagreements, and sometimes people get angrier about disagreements in families than they do with folks who aren’t family.  I understand that.  But we’ve repeatedly throughout the history of the United States and Israel had times where the U.S. administration and the Israeli government had disagreements, and that does not affect the core commitments that we have to each other. 
And throughout my administration, even my fiercest critics in Israel would acknowledge that we’ve maintain unprecedented military cooperation, unprecedented intelligence coordination.  We have not only maintained but enhanced the degree of military assistance that we provide, including helping to fund things like the Iron Dome program that has protected and saved lives inside of Israel.
And what I have said repeatedly is that as soon as this particular debate is over, my hope is, is that the Israeli government will immediately want to rejoin conversations that we had started long before about how we can continue to improve and enhance Israel’s security in a very troubled neighborhood. 
But what I would emphasize is that the commitment to Israel is sacrosanct and it is nonpartisan.  It always has been and it always will be.  And I would suggest that, in terms of the tone of this debate, everybody keep in mind that we’re all pro-Israel. We’re all pro-U.S.-Israel.  And we have to make sure that we don’t impugn people’s motives even as we have what is a very serious debate about how best to protect the United States, Israel, and the world community from a potentially destabilizing Iranian nuclear weapon.
MR. SIEGAL:  I haven’t been invited, but okay.  It says:  Aren’t you concerned that after 15 years, Iran will have access to the highly enriched uranium that they need to build a nuclear weapon -- one of the things you talked about.  Do you worry at that time that Iran might build as large a nuclear infrastructure as they want?  What about others in the region?  And do you expect that others will also insist on building comparable nuclear infrastructures?  And then lastly, and importantly, how does this deal reduce the risk of nuclear proliferation in the region?
THE PRESIDENT:  Good.  One thing that might be helpful is to understand sort of what a lot of this argument has been about.  I think that in the best of all worlds, Iran would have no nuclear infrastructure whatsoever.  There wouldn’t be a single nut, bolt, building, nuclear scientist, uranium mine anywhere inside of Iran.  And that, I suppose, would be the single guarantee that Iran never has a nuclear weapon -- unless it purchased one, of course, from North Korea, which it could also do.
Unfortunately, that’s not a reality that’s attainable.  And those who say they want a better deal, that this isn’t a good deal and they want a better deal typically mean that not only do they want Iran not to have nuclear weapons, but they don’t want them to have any nuclear program at all, even a peaceful one.
The problem is, is that even Iranians who oppose this regime believe that Iran should have the right to peaceful nuclear programs.  The world community -- not just the Russians or the Chinese but the Europeans, the Indians, the Japanese, others -- they all believe that under the nonproliferation treaty, you are allowed to have peaceful nuclear power.  You just can’t have a weapon.
So this deal is designed to essentially put Iran in the penalty box for the first 15 years, where even its peaceful nuclear program is severely constrained.  After 15 years, assuming they’ve abided by that deal, they can then start opening up their peaceful nuclear program.  But their prohibition on weaponizing nuclear power -- that continues in perpetuity, and will continue to be monitored by the toughest inspection regime that exists under the current international rules, called the additional protocol.  And we’ll still be monitoring it very carefully and we will have had 15 years of knowledge about what their program is.
Now, is it possible that at the end of 15 years, they now start introducing some more advanced centrifuges and at some point, they feel comfortable enough, cocky enough, where they say to themselves, now is the time for us to breakout, we’re going to kick out all the IAEA inspectors, we’re going to announce that we’re going to pursue a nuclear weapon -- is that possible?  Absolutely.  Just as it’s possible that they could have done that next week if we hadn’t had this deal.  The question then becomes, have we given up any ability to response forcefully?  And as I indicated in my opening remarks, we will have not given anything up.
When I came into office, I talked to the Pentagon to say it’s not enough for us just to beat our chest and rattle our sabers.  Do we have specific plans in terms of how we would respond if necessary to Iran dashing for the goal line of getting a nuclear weapon?  And we prepared and made sure that we could respond.  And we have shared a lot of information with our Israeli partners and our other partners in the region about our confidence in our capacity to respond.  A President of the United States 15 years from now is not going to be in a worse position to respond; he’ll be in a stronger position, or she will be in a stronger position, to respond.  And so that’s something that I feel great confidence about.
The alternative -- I’ve never understood the logic that says because there may be issues that we have to deal with 15 years from now, we should reject a deal that ensures us for 15 years not having a nuclear weaponized Iran.  And we now are in a situation in which they could breakout next year, without inspectors on the ground to monitor effectively, without the international constraints that this deal provides, and forcing us or the Israelis to make that same decision, isolated, without international legitimacy, and in a situation where even the best estimates suggest that, at best, a military approach at this juncture would probably forestall a determined Iran for a year or two from getting a nuclear weapon.
—Aug. 28, 2015 in a webcast discussion with The Jewish Federations of North America

The Final Deal: Promises and Pitfalls

The debate surrounding the historic nuclear deal between Iran and the world’s six major powers played out among two nuclear experts, a sanctions specialist and an Iran scholar during an event co-hosted by USIP at the Woodrow Wilson Center on July 23. The discussion outlined key issues that will top agendas in Washington and Tehran as lawmakers in both countries consider the agreement in the coming months.

Congress has until September 18 to review the final deal. If it adopts a resolution of disapproval, it would take a two-thirds vote in both the House and the Senate to override a likely veto by President Obama.
The following are the main points of the discussion, which was moderated by Doyle McManus, a Washington columnist for The Los Angeles Times. The discussion marked the fifth Iran Forum event, a series hosted by an unprecedented coalition of eight Washington think tanks that also includes the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, the RAND Corporation, the Arms Control Association, the Center for a New American Security, the Stimson Center, Partnership for a Secure America and the Ploughshares Fund.
Olli Heinonen 
Senior Fellow, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University
Former Deputy Director General and Head of Department of Safeguards, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
  • After 10 years, Iran will be able to increase the number of centrifuges without limit. Its uranium stockpile will still be restricted, but the limits will be less important because by then Iran will be using more-advanced centrifuges.
  • After 15 years, limits on the stockpile of enriched uranium will expire. Iran’s breakout time for a bomb could decrease to as little as a few weeks.
  • So-called “snap back” sanctions, penalties that could be restored in the case of violations by Iran, could take months or even years to fully implement. There may need to be a faster mechanism to address Iranian violations.
  • Iran has agreed to ratify the IAEA’s Additional Protocol after the UN agency determines Iran’s nuclear program is peaceful. The IAEA would normally require ratification before making that determination.
  • The IAEA system for monitoring declared facilities – like Natanz and Fordow – is robust. If Iran carries out violations at these sites, they would be detected fairly quickly.
  • The IAEA is still missing information about Iran’s nuclear activities since 2005, which will make it hard to begin verification with a clean slate.
  • The 24-day timeframe for inspectors to access suspicious sites could be problematic. There are scenarios in which evidence of nuclear activity can be removed or erased in much less time.
  • The alternative to a deal is not necessarily war. Iran is unlikely to dash towards a bomb given its current nuclear infrastructure, but would instead escalate its activities strategically.
Elizabeth Rosenberg
Senior Fellow and Director of the Energy, Economics and Security Program, Center for a New American Security
Former Senior Sanctions Advisor at the U.S. Treasury Department
  • Most – but not all – sanctions targeting Iran’s energy industry, financial services, shipping and other sectors will be lifted on implementation day, the day Iran is deemed to have met its nuclear commitments. That could occur six- to nine months from now..
  • U.S. and E.U. sanctions relating to Iran’s support of terrorism will remain in place.
  • Sanctions that restrict Iran’s participation in the SWIFT international financial payment system are particularly significant, perhaps even more than U.S. sanctions. If they are lifted, Iran will be able to resume international transactions.
  • Lifting U.S. sanctions will impact foreign companies, but many American companies will still face restrictions. There are some exceptions, including trade in commercial aircraft, pistachios and rugs.
  • In reality, sanctions relief won’t have a significant impact in the first few months or even years. Companies may be concerned about the risk of a deal collapsing or getting wrapped up in sanctions violations, which can cost them billions of dollars and reputational damage. And issues like corruption make Iran a difficult place to do business.
  • Still, Iran is an attractive market for emerging investment. It has a large, well-educated population.
  • If the United States and the European Union are involved with Iran’s reintegration into the international financial system, they will have more leverage later on to re-impose sanctions if necessary. So it is also important to increase trade with Iran enough that it will feel the impact if sanctions are reimposed.
  • Multilateral sanctions are far more effective than unilateral penalties. The United States cannot produce the same effect alone. And if it tries and fails, it makes sanctions look weak as an option.

Robin Wright
Joint Fellow, U.S. Institute of Peace and Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
Author and Journalist, recently returned from Iran for The New Yorker
  • From the beginning, Iran wanted more than sanctions relief in the negotiations. It wanted recognition of the Islamic Republic, and a shift away from talk of regime change.
  • Iran also chose to engage because it opened up economic avenues. Iran needs $1 trillion of investment to revive its economy.
  • The Islamic Republic also feels vulnerable, with ISIS as close as 25 miles from its borders. Iranians fear rising sectarianism in the region, as Iran is in the minority as a Shiite state surrounded by Sunnis.
  • There is potential for profound change within Iran. More than half the electorate is under 35 – born after the revolution – and they have enormous influence. The government understands that this is a moment to engage. And the supreme leader cannot ignore the changes happening in society.
  • Hardliners are less concerned about the deal itself than they are about how it will affect domestic politics. They might oppose the deal because their own political future is at stake. They may fear that opening up to the world will undermine the revolution.
  • A key issue is what Iran will do with the billions of dollars it will receive with sanctions relief. The question will be whether the Revolutionary Guards will get a payoff in terms of funds for their activities in the region, or for their spinoff construction companies in Iran.
  • If Congress rejects the deal, hardliners in Iran’s parliament might reject it as well. But they also might approve it, as a way to undermine the United States. Khamenei would argue that he was right to assume the United States could not be trusted as a negotiating partner. It might make future engagement impossible.
Joe Cirincione
President, Ploughshares Fund
Former Professional Staff Member, House Armed Services Committee
  • The deal is a major diplomatic triumph. It is the most important nonproliferation agreement of the last 20 years. 
  • It stops Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon and prevents a new war in the Middle East. It also makes the region more secure.
  • The United States achieved all its major goals in this deal: stopping all pathways to a bomb, putting a verification system in place, and deterring Iran from cheating by maintaining the international coalition that imposed sanctions.
  • The deal strips down Iran’s nuclear program and wraps it in an extensive verification system. It would be almost impossible for Iran to evade inspections.
  • There are some concerns and issues, but overall it is much better than any deal previously negotiated.
  • In 10 years, Iran will be allowed to install more centrifuges, but they will still have a small stockpile. And even when they are allowed to increase it, after 15 years, Iran will still be limited in its procurement channels and bound by international inspections.
  • Even when other restrictions expire, the international community will have so much more information on Iran’s nuclear sites and activities that a potential military option would be more effective than it is now.
  • The deal is not perfect. But it buys time, which is the main goal when it comes to national security concerns.

To assess the period of pivotal diplomacy leading up to the deal, the coalition of eight Washington policy organizations has previously hosted four other discussions.

The full video of the event is below.

Broadcast live streaming video on Ustream


Tags: Nuclear

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